The Democratisation of Book Selling?

One might think with the ubiquity of Amazon and the prevalence of consumer generated reviews and book clubs, that book-selling was one of those sectors so open to the power of the crowd that it would be pretty replete with all the new practices. It probably is in many ways, but it’s also got more than a hint of the old top-down model too according to a story in today’s Times.

Every day thousands of shoppers decide to buy a new book because Waterstone’s prominently displays or recommends it.

The reader may imagine that merit alone has inspired the country’s largest book chain to champion the volume now resting in their hands. The truth is a little less romantic.

In a confidential letter to publishers seen by The Times, Waterstone’s has set out what it expects them to pay if they want their books to be well promoted in its network of more than 300 stores this Christmas.

The most expensive package, available for only six books and designed to “maximise the potential of the biggest titles for Christmas”, costs £45,000 per title. The next category down offers prominent display spots at the front of each branch to about 45 new books for £25,000. Inclusion on the Paperbacks of the Year list costs up to £7,000 for each book, while an entry in Waterstone’s Gift Guide, with a book review, is a relative snip at £500.

The purchase decision-making process for a book, like music, is a wonderfully complicated and personal thing and so it’s a tad shocking when we realise that many of us are as driven by what’s near the till or in the window (and that’s driven by money not popularity or ‘taste’) as we are by our studied examination of the dust cover and reader-reviews. Perhaps the revolution has been a little delayed, or perhaps Waterstone’s, is running a risk longer-term of looking out of step with their customers’ tastes.

[tags] Democratisation, Waterstone’s [/tags]

Categories Technology

7 thoughts on “The Democratisation of Book Selling?

  1. I am absolutely astounded by this David!

    If this were happening on the internet, Waterstones may as well shut up shop.

    I can’t help thinking it draws parralels to the (apologies for this!) Wal-Mart blogging “scandal” a couple of years back.

    The force-feeding of recommendations caused a riot.

    There surely has to be a danger if this story goes viral, that those online retailers promoting books legitimately need to come out and say so. Those that don’t have to legitimately explain why. These revelations have the power to undermine a whole industry (or at least one of its sales channels).

    There surely has to be an opportunity for book shops to engage with communities (or focus groups at a push!) by creating book clubs that would review books for them. The end result ends up on display. Engaging with the book-buying community, bringing yourself closer to the customer is surely going to create a more positive brand image as well as providing more consumer insight than a random survey might!

    I am going for a calming 10 minute break now!


  2. I thought it was odd, but only in the sense of lost opportunity. Surely, they will sell more if they listen as you suggest and promote those backed by their customers or staff? I guess, the trade off (and they work on thin margins) is the cash for being front of house vs the extra profit from more sales if they promoted books more likely to be popular. I’m always leery to blast away though, when I see someohting like this, as sometimes we cannot kow the business models and issues faced on the inside. Maybe it is a dying business model? Are you calm again?


  3. Hey David, I’ve had a little time to reflect – having to go and sign-on at the Job Centre does that to you!

    Your point about it being the only valid business model is a good one. Taking this point further, it actually occurred to me that bricks and mortar retailers (such as Waterstones) may actually be too scared to enter into any alternative business models for fear of failure.

    I think most people can safely see that to take amazon on at their own game would be a risky model on which to base your future plans, so maybe they are having to pursue the only business model which a) they know and are comfortable with and b)provides them with any sort of revenue.

    I firmly believe that they have an opportunity to establish a business by creating the community first. How many businesses would give their right arm for customers who spend up to an hour in their store?


  4. I don’t really have an issue with Waterstone’s charging for prominent positions in-store, after all the big supermarkets do that all the time.

    However, selling “recommendations” seems much less ethical. One would expect that “paperback of the year” involved some kind of objective assessment rather than buying your way onto a list. Similarly, the reviews are normally presented as editorial decisions as opposed to adverts.

    The selling of a recommendation undoubtedly affects the credibility of suggestions by Waterstone’s. If I remember correctly, wasn’t its original brand built on the value of endorsement from staff who were informed about books?

    If I cannot trust that I am going to get a good read, or a valued present, as a result of advice from Waterstone’s, then their brand becomes diminished – I may just as well find the book cheaper at Tesco or online.


  5. That is a very good point I missed Heather. I wonder if the others do the same?


  6. Particular location can performance metrics (PPM all homebusiness any other or confused money within each The table below!


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