Saturday, 7 November 2015

Why I dislike bookshops


So the great monopoly that is Amazon, having closed a gazillion bookshops by its undercutting pricing policy has now opened....ta-dah: A bookshop. In Seattle. Irony much? Can't see it catching on. I am becoming more and more disillusioned with the way books are marketed and sold, which is not good news as I write them.

The rot set in with the scrapping of the Net Book Agreement. The NBA came into effect on 1 January 1900 and involved retailers selling books at agreed prices. Any bookseller who sold a book at less than the agreed price would no longer be supplied by the publisher in question.

Ironically, it was bookshops themselves who fought against it, and Waterstones was one of the first stores who started discounting books in an attempt to undermine it. In March 1997 the Restrictive Practices Court ruled that the Net Book Agreement was against the public interest and therefore illegal.

So here we are. Pile them high, sell them cheap, give them away. Next time you, dear writer, moan about the discounting you have to agree to and the hoops you have to jump through to get sales, you know whose fault it was. Yep. The good old bookshops. The ones that Amazon closed down by implementing the outcome that they fought so hard in the courts to obtain in the first place.

 I am becoming less and less a fan of bookshops. It is personal - but before I am accused of 'sour grapes' let me say that 99% of my sales now come from ebooks and I'm not complaining. It is the undermining of authors, and who caused it that I get angry about.

Bookshops never had, nor do they now have the writer's best interest at heart. To get books into any bookshop, a publisher has to offer at least a 45% discount. Subtract from that what a writer gets paid in royalties, and the fact that bookshops run a sale or return policy, and you end up with so little for your years of hard graft that you might as well go and work in Asda (also selling discounted books).

It is not a level playing field. Large publishers can print books cheaply and in bulk, and take a hit on a couple of titles. Small publishers cannot. Plus most bookshops still operate their snobby policy that if it's NOT published by one of the big names it is, ergo, of inferior quality. As one who has given up on so many novels by 'famous authors' because I can't get beyond page 15, I find that, frankly, deeply insulting.

My local Waterstones once had a local writer shelf. I was on it. Then it didn't have one. They don't stock my books (other than the Usborne ones). Nor do WH Smith. They say they do, but several people have been in to ask, and they seem not to have heard of me.

So I read the news of Amazon's latest venture with a mixture of amusement and deep cynicism. I can see the day coming when Amazon the online retailer starts undercutting Amazon the bookstore, causing it to close down. Watch this space.








24 comments:

  1. Interesting post, Carol. I have always loved browsing in a good old fashioned bookshop, but after publishing my first title, and then going on to publish more, I realised how my dream (seeing my book in Waterstones window) was not a realistic one. Like you, my sales are 99% eBook with a smattering a paperbacks at the fairs I attend. I did look into the process of getting my books into a well known store, but without a commendation from the Pope and a letter of recommendation from Shakespeare I gave it up and enjoyed watching my eBook sales rise!

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    1. I think self-selling is the best way to shift books. Sadly. See my comment to Jo's. Saves all the rejection. HOWEVER I do think Indie publishers who offer books should do FAR more to raise the profile of their product. CC's books are of excellent quality. They should be promoting them far more at trade fairs. Untill small publishers start making a fuss and showing pride in their product, we will always be standing in the background looking inferior

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  2. I agree that the big bookshops have made life more difficult for all of us. But my lovely, local independent bookshop is my idea of heaven. They'll order absolutely anything for me, and always have time to offer advice if I need it. They sell my books. (And they've even offered to help with the house-build appeal!)

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    1. Jo, you are very lucky. I went into Daunt books in Hampstead- as you know all my 3 Victorian novels are set in the area. They checked me out and said as they were Print on Demand, (what do big publishers do but print on demand..only more) they wouldn't stock them. Had same response from small Indie Bookshop in St Johns Wood.

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  3. My local bookshop takes a few copies. Nice of them as I can only offer a tiny discount (and doing that means I make nothing). The big companies are only interested in writers who can make them lots of money - and then it's still the money, not the writer they care about.

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  4. My local bookshop was kind enough to stock the paperback version of my book. She took ten of them. She sold ten of them. Eventually I suggested that she should pay for them. She asked me to invoice her. I did. Six months later I was still chasing her for payment. Finally, she paid, saying there had been a 'misunderstanding.' I have not been back in.

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  5. I am beginning wonder why we bother to write at all, apart from the fact that we love the process. The rest of it just breaks your heart.
    Is there nothing we can do?

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  6. I'm very much with you on this one, Carol.
    I also have long disliked the various subtle manipulations that bookshops have used to bamboozle readers into buying; Waterstones used a very interesting one of blocking windows so you couldn't see the outside world.
    It's been a long while since I have enjoyed visiting bookshops; there is a good independent one in Norwich that I quite like, but my wallet doesn't. I have some of my books stocked in an esoteric gift shop (the owner is a pal) but I've never been interested in the slap in the face that you get from asking bookshops to stock your books. I know of a few thick-skinned individuals who persist and wear down the manager into an agreement but do they ever really sell or are they returned?
    Plus, the really interesting, unusual, original books tend to be by indies these days. Like you.

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  7. You've said it all, Carol. I have made the decision that I will only make my paperbacks available from Lulu.com now. It's just not worth trying to sell them through other outlets. I make less than on a paperback than I do on an e-book. The royalty is about one-third of the e-book royalty. How crazy is that? I'm almost glad I don't sell many!

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    1. It's sad because there are a lot of people (like me) who prefer books. We are offered only a small sample of what is published.

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  8. Interesting article, Carol. I was published by some of the big publishers and, years ago, used to do readings and book signings for Watrstones, and had one of my books in their front window. It went on to become a No 4 bestseller on the Sunday Times list. However!!! Having taken a few years off to help in the family business, I now find that they are very reluctant to take me on again, as are the big publishers. I have a traditional contract but suspect my publisher probably uses POD. What Waterstones told me, only yesterday, is that they require sales of 70 copies of your book nationwide before they'll stock it (even though that particular branch backs onto the location where my novel Time to Shine is set) and a guarantee of 50 bums on seats before they'll do a book signing. It appears that they *list* the book (because my publisher pays them to do so) but will not stock it, only order it if requested. Aaaargh All this, even though the book has made a number of 5* reviews on Amazon.

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  9. I got Gardners to hold 4 copies of each of my books, so they appear as "in stock" on the Gardners website rather than "Print on Demand". Shops are happy then. I also priced them with Gardners and my publisher so that Gardners make their normal discount and bookshops make 35% to 45% which independent bookshps, and some smaller chains, are happy with. Even Waterstones will accept 40% if there's a book they feel they ought to stock.

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  10. Well, I managed my clothes shopping after all without buying some books today. I agree with all of what you say.
    Yet I still love browsing bookshops and libraries.
    I've become a publisher. Maybe I should become a bookseller too...

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  11. ...what goes around comes around, m’Lady, Carol... one day, Amazon will implode, being too smart by half for themselves... as a businessman, I can already see flaws in their model, but they won’t listen to the likes of we 'minor’ names .... however, The Chinese have a great phrase that means , ‘if you sit on the bridge long enough, sooner or later, you’ll see the bodies of your enemies float by, one by one...c’mon Amazon bodies! ...:)

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  12. I agree, it's all so cock-eyed, and I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate your comment about the quality of CC books.

    I've recently begun to read a paperback by a 'name' author (no doubt to be found in bookshops everywhere) and had to abandon it because the quality of the writing was so poor. Unlike with yours, which cannot be found.

    Interesting to hear that 99% of your sales come from ebooks, but you still won't read them!!!! Many of the self pub/small press writers I know who do paperbacks said they're little more than a vanity/PR for signing sessions/something to give to friends outlet; one very successful light romance writer says she's thinking of giving them up. I am still toying with the idea, but then I read something like this and think that perhaps I'll spend the time and energy writing, instead.

    I realise I haven't commented on the exact topic of the blog, sorry! I know, that annoys me when people do it to mine. Interesting stuff, indeed; I just haven't got much to say about it!

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    1. hahaha... I don't read ebooks because of my eyesight. Yes CC books are high quality, but that's nothing if they won't put their backs into pushing them.

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  13. Such an interesting post Carol, I had no idea of the background to all this discounting. My local bookshop (still a 28 mile round trip) stocks my books on sale and return and takes 30%. They don't sell huge numbers but it gets a few more copies out there in the hands of new readers, who I hope come back to but the others in the future. They've asked me to come and do a book signing which I'm nervous about and trying to avoid no one turning up I've advertised in the local paper and now don't want to think about how many I have to sell to break even...*she laughs heartily* otherwise she'd cry...

    This bookshop is, I think, one of the good ones - it supports local authors with their PoD books by giving them shelf space but I was chatting to another author only today who used to go and sell in Waterstones, then all of a sudden she wasn't good enough for them because she was self-published. That attitude is very disappointing.

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    1. Waterstones needs a kick up the backside, alas! Book signings are great...you could also try to do an EVENT ..as I did t the library...around your book..I'll do a blog on this...Local press need a press release anyway...and have at least 25 books!

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  14. At present I can't seem to sell ebooks but I am selling a good number of my paperback copies at Aberdeenshire Craft Fairs. The downside is that I spend hours behind the table selling but I have to be fair and also say I've been invited to do a lot of author talks in the 'shire'. That wouldn't happen if I wasn't 'out there'. I sold 25 paperback copies today, Carol, but when one woman asked if they were in the local bookstores I wanted to say... Well no...we don't have many bookstores in the Aberdeenshire' and those I've approached aren't prepared to order them via the catalogues, even though they're available through the big distributors. Waterstones Aberdeen is the nearest big bookstore and they don't want to stock my books. Selling books ain't easy - for sure! ;-)

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    1. I sell ebooks via my presence on social media...which is as hard work as selling books through craft fairs ( I used to sell handmade baby clothes through craft fairs). Well done you...though.

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  15. Carol - no one loves the old bookshop (complete with sleeping cat) more than I do. I've supported hundreds of them down the year - and continue to browse whenever I get the chance. But like you - my perspective has changed since I started working with a small press - and I've learned a lot of things about them that aren't pleasant.

    Firstly, they rarely order new books from small presses - but when they do they are our worst customers by far. They want books 'on consignment' - 'sale or return' - or some other ridiculous arrangement non-existent anywhere else in the wholesale/retail world. So many of them try to get by without paying - then try to return dog-eared books months instead of settling a bill. Many of them won't buy any new books at all - instead subsisting on used and donated books. And the few that do will only order from the large commercial presses unless they receive a special order request for a small press book. What's unbelievable is that many of them act offended when presses have a normative billing policy - inexplicably demanding books for free or at least borrowed until they sell. I've had book owners get belligerent about paying for books, citing economic difficulty - with absolutely no concern for the wellbeing for small presses who can't afford not to be paid for their products. Selling books direct - or through online vendors - is so much more pleasant. It's been a heartbreaking lesson.

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    1. This chimes in with my personal experience, Mr Kop. As a covert 'saleswoman' I tried to get my books into small retailers...specifically the ones in the areas mentioned in the books. I received the same hostile reaction...one specific bookseller in Kentish Town was downright rude ...and continued to be so when several local family members went in to order the books..even though they were on Bertrams list...yep, so they didn't make a VAST profit on the sales, but they didn't make a loss. It is my sad conclusion that many bookshops are greedy beasts who cannot see beyond their balance sheets! I had offered, with both shops to do events, books signings FREE ...I have never been taken up.

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  16. Here in Indiana, many of our libraries hold events/book signings for local authors, most of whom are self-published. There also are a few non-book stores that stock some Indiana writers' books, and our book stores have an Indiana writers section. It's unusual to see this.

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  17. Amazon is, without doubt, responsible for the failure of most independent bookshops. I agree that Watertones don't help us as writers. The Leicester shop doesn't stock my books either. But I loved our local bookshop, Browsers. They'd get anything for me within 24 hours and knew about every book in existence, or so it seemed. Amazon opening a book shop is an insult to the entire business that they have destroyed.

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