Waterstone's Christmas charges • 22 June 2007 • The SnowBlog
Waterstone's Christmas charges
I have an opinion. It is different. Interested?
So there's a lot of kerfuffle in the trade and wider press at the moment about Waterstone's rate card for Christmas. Never let it be said that publishers have a firm grasp of English: clearly one of them didn't quite understand the word 'confidential' on the letter and so thought it would be a good idea to leak the rate card to the press. Cue a lot of jumping up and down and letters from Outraged of Tunbridge Wells.
Let me give you my opinion, for what it's worth. From my perspective, there is no point in publishing books unless I can find a cost-effective way to let a lot of people know about them. The importance of being cost-effective rules out broad-brush stroke advertising like tube ads, and the need to reach a lot of people rules out scattergun approaches like sending expensive proofs to reviewers. The best, proven way for me to reach lots of people is to create a mini-billboard that clearly advertises what the book is about, then somehow display that billboard in more than 1000 locations. Hmmm - how on earth can I do that, I wonder? Oh, I know - how about using the cover design and working with the retailers to get it into a prominent, front of store location.
That's the thing, you see: retailers provide access to some of the best, high footfall locations in the UK. We don't have to persuade people they want to buy a book - they have, of their own accord, walked right into the store! They want to buy a book! We just have to stand slightly to their side, cough quietly, and the job's done.
Retail space is chronically under-valued by publishers. How much do you suppose it would cost me to rent 300 prime retail locations in the UK, fill them with staff, paint them a nice colour, manage their stock, and magic up 10,000-odd visitors a day? A chuff of a lot, that's how much.
In this context, I happen to think that £6000 for three month's space at the front of 270 such locations is a bit of a bargain. Sure, I can't afford to buy a lot of them, and sure, it's a problem for my cash flow - but Snowbooks is a business, and it's the job of business to manage its cost base and revenues to make a profit. How much money do the publishers who are complaining about this rate card spend on outsourcing tasks they should be doing in-house? How much do they spend on advances? Frankfurt hotels? Dinners? Broad-brush advertising? Expensive proofs? A hardback publication just to get reviews for the paperback? Inefficiencies? I don't mean to be too critical, but the first thing to do is to critique your own business before - god help us - criticising your most important customers.
We will be submitting titles for the Christmas promotion, and we will be excited if we get onto it, because - I say again - there is no point in publishing books if we don't find ways to get them in front of readers. Once that job is done, it's down to the book. Last Christmas, the Adept-Ex Machina Omnibus went into the Waterstone's Christmas promotion and flew - it sold 10,000 units in two months making us a tidy profit - taking the marketing spend into account - and making good royalties for the author.
To say that I am horrified by the rate card kerfuffle is an understatement. I don't understand it; I don't understand the mindset of the people who are complaining and I don't like that, far from creating a collaborative supply chain, yet again the publishing industry is demonstrating that it is not progressive. It's all very well getting excited about the future of books and digitisation and cutting edge technology, but if this trade can't even get its head around basic supply chain collaboration I fear for it, I really do.