Tea, cake and a completely full loyalty card at Waterstones Piccadilly yesterday.
Yesterday, I went to Waterstones Piccadilly with my book-loving older child, now 14. The afternoon expedition had started out not as a book-buying excursion, but as a walk in St James’s Park – one of those things you suggest to your teenager as a way to (a) get them out of their pyjamas on a Sunday and (b) spend some time with them in the hope that they might chat to you. However, once we were at the park, we decided we’d walk up to the bookshop. I knew, from Twitter, about the 20% discount weekend, and I had a debit card in my pocket. But my intention was just to spend some time browsing books with my daughter, and maybe to buy – sort of as an act of support for a truly excellent bookshop, more than anything else – one book, either for her or for me.
Once a book-lover… A photograph of a photograph on the stairway at Waterstones Piccadilly showing the older child at a Gruffalo event many years ago. I’d forgotten it was there, and must have passed it many times, but she recognised herself.
I should say right now that there is no lack of books in our household. I recently tweeted a picture of the physical books that have accumulated around my bedside – just a fraction of the books, some of them unread, in the house.
The books by the bed. Sharp-eyed readers will spot the Kindle on top of the tall pile. Sharper-eyed readers will realise that what you see is just the front two piles: there are two piles of books behind these ones.
Nor is January any more of a flush month for me than it is for anyone else, post-Christmas.
So I had neither need nor, really, means, as my child and I arrived at Waterstones, entering from the Jermyn Street Entrance.
Frankly, we didn’t resist for long. The 20% discount was prominently advertised throughout, and, by the time we’d got to the main body of the shop, I was already clutching six Quentin Blake Matilda/Charlie and the Chocolate Factory greeting cards (for my thinning greetings-cards-on-standby box) and a guide book to London for the family. My daughter, studying Mandarin and 20th century history, found Jung Chang’s biography of Mao on the ground floor, which I bought to give her on her forthcoming birthday. The Mao biography was close to where I found Lean In (which I had, it turned out, bought as a Kindle book, and partly read, but entirely forgotten: I am not sure whether that reflects worse on me or Sheryl Sandberg… but I suppose I can lend the print edition to other people more easily). Then my daughter stumbled on something she hadn’t known existed: a board game based on one of her favourite novel sequences, Gormenghast. I bought it for her grandfather to give to her for her birthday. Upstairs, I replenished my sadly-depleted Christmas present drawer with The Design Museum’s Fifty Dresses that Changed the World, for a fashion-aware relative. Then on to the children’s section. By now, I was really trying to persuade myself that I was Just Going To Look, and to see how Nosy Crow’s books were being displayed… but somehow I ended up with Squishy McFluff (bought for the format) and How to Lose a Lemur (because Fran, the author/illustrator, works for Bounce, who manage our sales representation) for the Nosy Crow office bookshelves. Honestly, I’d probably have bought more, but my daughter was getting restive.
Nosy Crow series fiction (The Grunts In Trouble and Olivia’s First Term) on a table promoting the first books in great series.
Nosy Crow’s Just Right for Two in place for Valentine’s Day.
Nosy Crow picture books (The Princess and the Peas, Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam and Dinosaur Rescue!) on a picture book display table.
Nosy Crow’s Baby Aliens Got My Teacher glowing from the fiction shelves.
So we went down to the basement for a tea and cake – also 20% off – and then the plan was to go home… but in the cafe there was display of DVDs with Walk The Line at a pre-discount bargain price of £3.99. My husband likes Johnny Cash, and just last month I was telling him about the film, which he hasn’t seen but which I saw on an aeroplane once. He has a birthday coming up soon, so I took it upstairs to the ground floor to pay for it… which is where I saw Life After Life at the cash desk.
What I bought at Waterstones Piccadilly without really meaning to
Look, I am not proud of this rampant consumerism. I ended up spending money I had decided I couldn’t easily spare on things I hadn’t intended to buy. And anyone who knows me will know that I am pretty resistant to the temptations of shopping: Nosy Crow colleagues would be likely to comment if I wore new clothes to the office, for example. So this isn’t a common indulgence.
The point is that the whole bookshop experience (from the lovely displays of things I could properly look at and pick up in a lovely place, to the staff member in the children’s section who offered to help me if I needed support on book choices, via the cafe) combined with the discount was just… really, really seductive.
I spent – gulp – £89.52, including the redemption of my rapidly-filled loyalty card.
Last night, I worked out what the same things (not including tea and cake, obvs) would have cost me had I bought them on the same day from Amazon (though I couldn’t find on Amazon the greetings cards I bought in Waterstones, and had to substitute other Quentin Blake greetings cards). The answer, without including delivery charges, was £88.09. So, with delivery, I would have paid more if I’d bought everything from Amazon. But the thing is that I wouldn’t have spent the money on Amazon. I only ever go to Amazon to buy things I know I want/need, and never to browse, far less just for a really nice thing to do on a wintry Sunday. But at Waterstones, in the context of a leisure activity with my child, I spent money that I never intended to spend on books/book related things I didn’t know, or had forgotten, existed. I would never have spent that money online. Without the discount, I might still have bought a book (even two) at Waterstones, but my spend was very much increased by the discount.
And I don’t think I was alone. Waterstones Piccadilly felt a bit like a venue for a book party this afternoon: lots of people with armfuls of books buying and browsing and reading and chatting.
So I was wondering aloud on Twitter if a monthly, or quarterly, event like this weekend’s could work for Waterstones. Of course, I know the arguments against it: it’s hard/dangerous/impossible/unsustainable for bookshops to compete with online retailers on price. A bookshop’s costs, from space to staff via stock, are so much more expensive. Financially, the odds are stacked against bookshops, who tend not to have indulgent investors, and who need to turn a profit on books today, in contrast to internet giants like Amazon who can build their stock value based on building their revenue – to an unimaginable, for me, $74bn dollars in 2013 – and market share, while only making a 1% operating profit last year, and who can use books as loss-leaders. I know, too, that Waterstones Piccadilly is the company’s flagship store, and I suppose I might have been less seduced in a less stunning, less spectacularly stocked branch.
But I certainly came away having clocked many more books that I would like to buy than books I bought, and, truth be told, with a renewed sense of excitement about Waterstones as a consumer (I always feel excited about, and grateful to, Waterstones as a supplier!). I guess it might depend on what the weekend’s take was (perhaps The Bookseller will provide analysis); on refining the model (for example, my loyalty card was credited with the full price of the books, I bought rather than the discounted price, which I hadn’t expected, and was maybe unnecessarily generous); and whether, as some Twitter friends suggested, if the event were held regularly, people would just hold out for discount days, and not buy at all at other times. One Twitter friend suggested a subscription model, so you’d pay an annual fee up front to be a “member” to get your discount, maybe every day, not just on special days (not unlike Amazon Prime, in a way).
What do you think? Where do you buy your books? How can bricks-and-mortar bookshops compete with online retailers? Would you pay to be a bookshop “member” in exchange for discount? How important is price when you are buying books anyway?
(Thanks to Philip Downer, Julia Kingsford and Cathy Rentzenbrink as well as other Twitter friends who chipped in to the discussion on Twitter on Sunday evening that prompted this blog post.)
It’s half-term. Yesterday my 12 year-old pulled out an old favourite DVD to watch as we were surrounded by fog drifting down from the Brecon Beacons. It was You’ve Got Mail, the 15 year-old Nora Ephron rom-com. In a classic Pride-and-Prejudice plot with a virtual twist, Meg Ryan is Kathleen Kelly, second-generation owner-manager of the children’s specialist bookshop in an affluent New York neighbourhood, The Shop Around The Corner. Kathleen ends up with third-generation bookshop chain owner-manager, Joe Fox – it’s as if Tim Waterstone, his son and grandson owned and managed Waterstones rather than Alexander Mamut and James Daunt.
What struck me, as it did last time my daughter watched the film and I half-watched it while working, was that I felt sort of anxious for Joe Fox, who was so confident that his big-box bookshop chain with 20% discounting would win through (and, indeed, The Shop Around The Corner folds, and Kathleen is forced to move up the supply chain towards the source, being offered an editorial role at a publishing conglomerate and ending up as a writer).
Joe Fox’s big-book-business view is portrayed as rather soulless. In contrast, here’s Kathleen advocating the kind of expert hand-selling of books that she believes is the preserve of the independent bookstore: “It wasn’t that she was just selling books. It was that she was helping people become who they were going to turn out to be”.
But by the time of its release in 1998, the film was already out-of-date. In May 1997, Amazon, just 18 months old, had issued its initial public stock offering, trading on the NASDAQ, and in the same month, Barnes and Noble sued Amazon, alleging that Amazon’s claim to be “the world’s largest bookstore” was false. Barnes and Noble asserted, “[It] isn’t a bookstore at all. It’s a book broker.” The suit was later settled out of court, and Amazon continued to make the same claim. Also in 1997, the E Ink Corporation whose technology was critical to ereaders, and therefore the spread of ebooks into the mainstream, was founded.
Joe, however, proceeds oblivious to the clouds of online bookselling and the emergence of ebooks that are gathering above his head. When I mentioned on Twitter my feelings of sympathy for him, someone speculated that he and Kathleen would have had to move out of their prime Manhattan real estate to resettle in Brooklyn, and that their financial situation would have been exacerbated by an unwise investment in AOL stock.
In the film, though, Fox Books are the bad guys – the people using their scale to skew the market to their unfair advantage. Nowadays, everyone in publishing at least is rooting for the big bookstore chains in the context of the many reports of the financial challenges many of them face and their wrestling with the part that online selling and ebooks could play in their future. We love independent bookshops, but we want – let’s face it, many of us need – places where a huge range of books can be comfortably and conveniently browsed, discovered and bought. I love the scale and grandeur of a shop like Waterstones in Piccadilly in London, or Barnes and Noble on Union Square in New York, and other booklovers value the experience of these destination stores too. Recent stats show that half of book purchases on Amazon are pre-planned – people are going to Amazon knowing what they want to buy. I don’t have the up-to-date figures for bricks and mortar bookshops (can anyone reading help?), but I’d bet they’re less. Bricks and mortar bookshops, whether they’re indies or chains, remain important for the seeding and building of the new talent on which our whole industry depends.
In You’ve Got Mail, Joe quotes The Godfather to Kathleen, advising that she “go to the mattresses”, using whatever means she has available to fight for her business. We want consumers to be able to find books in all sorts of places, but as they go to the mattresses, we’re certainly cheering the owners and managers of physical book stores on.
As it happens, here’s an example of “going to the mattresses” being reported today: indie bookstores in the US are suing Amazon and the big-six publishers for shutting them out of the ebook market by using DRM.
A lot has been written on the future of bookselling in the last week or so. Here’s a bit of a round up.
He argues that some things are “bought” – they’re there, and consumers find them because they meet a need without the seller soliciting the sale, and others are “sold” – no sale happens unless the seller solicits the sale.
I’ve just read the piece, and don’t have huge amounts of time to think it over in relation to books and apps (I am in Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronic’s Show, the Kids @ Play summit and to pick up the KAPi award for best ebook for our Cinderella app). The examples that Seth Godin gives are at the opposite ends of a spectrum, and I don’t really think that the things that we acquire can be put into boxes of “bought” and “sold”: instead, there’s a kind of continuum of push and pull, of desire and need, of opportunity and quest.
And I think that sometimes – as in the example of the Charles Dickens biography and War Horse below – something other than, or in addition to, the seller is “soliciting” or at least prompting the sale.
There’s also, in the case of books and apps, a question of who “the seller” is. Is it the publisher? Is it the retailer? It is, perhaps, the author or creator in some cases?
But it seems to me that books are both “bought” and “sold”. If I go into Hudson News or WHS in a station or an airport before a journey, and buy a book that I have never heard of before, that book has essentially been “bought”. Yes, the fact that it’s on a table rather than a shelf, or face out on a shelf, may make me more likely to notice it. Yesterday, I did just that. I bought a copy of Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (so far, so American and good). Perhaps the “Winner of the Pullitzer Prize” badge was part of a “sell”, and, I suppose, the cover, the blurb and the review sources suggested it would be a particular kind of woman-skewed, middle-brow read that might work for me when I was a bit jet-lagged and on a plane that I knew already would be as uncomfortable and rammed as only an American Airlines (gosh, but I hate that airline) flight can be.
But when I acquired the Claire Tomalin biography of Charles Dickens (I went on to write about it here) from Amazon, I didn’t stumble upon it. That book had been “sold” to me by review coverage combined, of course, with the event of the bi-centenary of Dickens’ birth, which meant that the subject was very zeitgeisty.
I think the fact that the bricks and mortar bookshop example was an example of a book that I “bought” and the online bookshop example was an example of a book that I was “sold” is indicative of a shift that books are going through now between from “bought” to being “sold”.
At the moment, I still think most, but not all, of course, children’s books are “bought”. Of course, there are exceptions: the film of War Horse is currently “selling” War Horse.
I think that, as publishers, we need to get better at “selling” books.
It’s hard to generalise about apps. I think that, in our case, many of our apps have been “sold”, in that people have gone onto the app store looking for them because they’ve seen a great review, or read about us in a paper or magazine, or connect with us on Twitter or Facebook (and social media is, of course, one of the ways that publishers could get better at selling books too), or heard about the app from someone they know.
However, I also think that some of our apps have been “bought”, by people finding them on the app store. At the moment, one of the great challenges of the Apple App Store is how to find good apps, but being App of the Week, or being on the front page of the store or a section of the store, or showing up well in rankings hugely increases the chances of being found by consumers.
Unlike much bookshop positioning (whether online or bricks-and-mortar), you can’t pay for positioning in the Apple App Store. Apple chooses the apps it promotes. All we can do is make sure our apps are as good as they can possibly be. Oh, and it would probably help if you voted for them in the Best App Ever Awards!
I am still thinking about this, so this is a far from definitive piece of writing, but I’d be interested to know your views.
So, do you feel books are bought or sold? What’s your own experience? Is it different from what you think other people’s experience is?
Do you feel apps are bought or sold? What’s your own experience, if you’re an app buyer? Is it different from what you think other people’s experience is?
2011 was Nosy Crow’s first year of publishing. We published our first book in January.
It’s been an incredibly busy and full year, and I find it hard to sort through the events and impressions of the past twelve months to write anything coherent.
But here goes…
The books and apps we published… and signed up
In 2011, we published 23 books for children aged 0 to 14. 8 were board books. 7 were picture books. 8 were fiction titles for children aged 6 to 14. Here they are in reverse publication order finishing, at the time of writing but this will update as publication dates pass, in December 2011.
We signed up a further 38 books and 8 apps for 2012, and already have projects scheduled for publication in 2013 and beyond. You can already find out about some of the forthcoming books (in publication order starting, at the time of writing but this will update as publication dates pass, in January 2012) and about some of the apps.
Selling at home and abroad
Working with Bounce, we had books sold and promoted in a huge range of UK sales outlets from independent booksellers through bookshop chains and online book retailers to supermarkets and toy shops.
We sold rights to books in the following languages: French, German, Dutch, Italian, Spanish, Catalan, Portuguese, Danish, Swedish, Finnish, Polish, Hebrew, Chinese, Norwegian, Greek and Korean.
Nosy Crow authors on the road
Nosy Crow authors were at numerous literary festivals, including Hay, Edinburgh, Bath and Cheltenham, and staged countless events in schools, libraries and bookshops.
Nosy Crow on the move
We moved offices from our second office in Lambeth to our third office in Southwark (it’s always cheaper south of the river) as our staff grew from 8 to January 2012’s 19, including part-time people and “attached freelancers”. We’ve lost members of staff too (which is a real rite of passage). Two were only with us on a temporary basis and went on to roles that they had planned before they joined us, but Deb Gaffin has just left us to take on a marketing and partnership strategy role at Mindshapes. We are very grateful to her for helping us shape our first apps and the thinking behind them. Andi Silverman Meyer who has known Deb since they were at school together, and who has been fantastic at getting us US coverage for our apps, is joining Mindshapes too.
Spreading the word
We have reached a lot of people with Nosy Crow news of various kinds.
Nosy Crow as a company or Nosy Crow books or apps have been in the Wall Street Journal, The Chicago Tribune, USA Today, The Gadgetwise Blog of The New York Times, Wired Magazine, The Daily Mail, The Times, The Guardian, The Sunday Times, The Sunday Telegraph, The Independent, The Scotsman, Prima, Junior, Good Housekeeping, Kirkus, School Library Journal, The Melbourne Age, The Australian, The Huffington Post and many great children’s book, parenting, technology and app blogs. We’ve had terrific coverage in trade press and websites including Publisher’s Weekly, The Bookseller, FutureBook, BookBrunch and The Literary Platform. The quickest look at the first few pages of a Google search result for Nosy Crow gives a sense of the range of coverage – and, where it’s third-party coverage, how positive it’s been. We’ve had more than our fair share of TV and radio coverage too, and coverage, through our Gallimard and Carlsen links in Figaro, Marie Claire and Buchreport.
It would be ridiculous to pretend it was a year without disappointments or irritations. The much-investigated drainy smell in the bathrooms at 10a Lant Street continues to baffle. The many cakes we make and eat continue to contain a lot of calories. Camilla had her bag stolen and we had to have all the office locks changed. There are one or two important UK retailers who still haven’t stocked our books. There are several countries to which we’d hoped to sell rights but haven’t yet managed to do so – Japan for example, but there are good reasons for that. We didn’t always (though we did generally) agree what books we wanted to publish and how much we wanted to publish them. We offered for some books that we didn’t manage to buy, a couple of which I still feel sad about. One or two books (and I mean “one or two”: our strike rate has been good) didn’t sell quite as well as we thought they would. We had to cancel a couple of projects because they just weren’t working out the way that we’d planned.
But it’s been a very good year.
Whatever we achieved in this first year, we did it in partnership with our many authors and illustrators, new and established, and with other artistic collaborators, such as composers, audio experts and paper engineers. Without them, we have nothing to publish. We threw a party to say thank you. You can see the pictures at the top of our Facebook page.
Our author party in The Crow’s Nest in Lant Street a few weeks ago
And whatever we’ve achieved in this first year, we did it thanks to the support of publishers abroad; booksellers of many kinds; librarians; reviewers; bloggers; literacy organisations; literary and illustrators agents; printers and print managers; talented freelancers; and, of course, the parents and grandparents, uncles, aunts, friends, teachers and librarians who have bought and read our books and apps to, with and for children.
Last year, loyal readers of this blog may remember a personal blog-post about re-reading books at Christmas.
This year, perhaps because there were more of us in one place and so more preparation to be done, there was little time for re-reading in the run-up to Christmas (though this morning I did squish in a speed-read of The Woman in Black, with a view to recommending it to one of my children).
And given the number of books we received between us – you can see them all in the picture above – we’ll be pretty occupied with first-time reading for a while. There were eight of us spending Christmas day together, ranging in age from 11 to 71, and we brought with us presents from friends and family elsewhere. We received 31 print books. In fact, several of us received hardly anything else.
We are, I know, not a typical family (as a glance at this summer’s blog post covering our holiday reading might suggest). We are, as was said of Christie in Work: A Story of Experience by Louisa May Alcott, perhaps “too fond of books”.
But we’re not alone in keeping alive the tradition of the printed book as a Christmas gift, however much we love digital reading too. As any trade publisher or bookseller will tell you, books bought for Christmas are currently fundamental to the UK book industry. According to BML’s Books and The Consumers study, 13% of all adult books and 26% of all children’s books bought in 2010 were bought as Christmas presents (though you have to hope that they get a better reception than that of this 3-year old who seemed to have modified his view by the following year. Sadly, we don’t know how he responded this year).
Undoubtedly this year, as in our house, a lot of book-lovers will have got ereaders. As @LaceyPR, a UK publishing professional, commented on Twitter, “Last year [at Christmas] my Twitter (industry) was filled with ereader recipients. This year it’s my Facebook (ordinary folk)”.
You can spot a new Kindle fifth from the left on the bottom row in the photo above. It was a 12 year-old’s main – and requested – present, and was preloaded with a number of free titles.
In fact, it was only the committed ebook reader in the family who didn’t receive or give any print books this year… and she didn’t give ebooks either, which potentially poses a real issue for the book industry as digital reading increases. Right now, the fact that many people are receiving new hardware means that publishers and certain retailers can enjoy a sort of “double Christmas”, as described by Scott Pack.
But still… printed books are affordable (the cheapest book here cost 20 pence from a second-hand shop), personal, durable and very easy to transport and to wrap or put in a stocking. They don’t give you a hangover. They don’t make you fat (well, the cookery books sort of do, but only indirectly). They take longer to consume than chocolates. A well-chosen book – one that taps into an enthusiasm or interest of a reader, one that communicates meaning or emotion from the giver to the receiver, one that introduces a reader to a new subject or author that they go on to love – is a great present.
Under our tree, there was a lot of lavishly-illustrated non-fiction, from The Magic of Reality (two copies, but not given twice to the same person) to 40 Years of Queen, and including a lot of cookery books. There were a lot of children’s books, at least one of which was given to an adult: the pop-up edition of L’Homme Qui Plantait des Arbres. There wasn’t a lot of adult fiction – only one adult fiction title was given to an adult. 18 of the 31 books we opened were hardbacks, from the £30 RRP40 Years of Queen to the £1.50 second-hand edition of Persuasion.
Many of the gifts of books we opened were on our family Christmas wish lists… though Justice for Hedgehogs kind of came out of the blue.
A while ago, I was asked to compile a Nosy Crow Christmas wish list as a guest blog post. I didn’t have the opportunity to consult widely, but I thought that you might like to know what some of the other crows later said was on our professional wish lists for Christmas and beyond.
Kirsty said that she, too, wanted to find a brilliant fantasy series for 8-12 year olds (it’s always cheering when we find out we would like the same thing…).
Dom said he wanted great review coverage for Just Right… and he pretty much got that, actually, as you’ll see if you look at the reviews section on the page.
Giselle is hoping for a great, innovative novelty idea to cross her path soon. I think Camilla would like one of those too.
Ed, Will and I wish for great, well-thought-through apps proposals that really use the features of touchscreen devices to tell stories to children in a new way.
Kate B always wants picture book texts that are original, emotionally compelling (which means they could be funny or sad or anywhere in between) and full of child-appeal.
And, of course, we’d all like bags of support for our books and apps from reviewers, librarians and from retailers whether they’re independent bookshops, chainstores, supermarkets or online retailers like Apple’s iTunes store and Amazon.
I know I missed Christmas Day for this blog, but I hope everyone else is enjoying Boxing Day as much as I am.
What books – print or ebook – did you get? What books did you want, but didn;t get? What books did you give? What was the best (or the worst!) reaction to your choice?
An alien and a mad scientist eye one another suspiciously.
We always want to know what people think about our books and apps, whoever they are.
This time, we have had some terrific feedback from a friendly bookseller. Matt Black (pictured doodling above) is Children’s Bookseller at Waterstone’s High Street Birmingham. We know him from Twitter (where he rejoices in the name @marquiscarabas). Here’s what he says:
“Mega Mash-Up: Aliens v Mad Scientists Under The Ocean is by Nikalas Catlow and Tim Wesson and well, you when you add to the pictures! If you haven’t seen any of the previous books in this fab series, then you are in for a treat. The whole point of these great stories is to bring the reader in on the action: you get to make up parts of the narrative as the story progresses, creating and illustrating elements of the story yourself. Using pencils, pens and felt tips (with hints on how you might want to do so from the authors) you can fill in the gaps in the story and pictures and make it your own little adventure.
This makes a great alternative to the usual doodle books available, which don’t have stories. Here, the narrative adds so much more to the book, making interacting with it much more fun. Also the illustration is very loose and simple – very child-friendly – which, I think, helps to encourage children to draw and to use their own imagination.
I love the idea of aliens and mad scientists being put together in one book set under the ocean: just such a good idea! Why just doodle, when you can create?”
We really like to hear from booksellers, whose role in getting our books into the hands of readers is so important… but it’s also great to hear from readers – or their parents – themselves. Yesterday, we got an email from a mum who had taken the trouble to contact Nosy Crow via our website after Nikalas and Tim did an event at her child’s school. This is what she says:
“Hi I just wanted to send you guys a quick email to say thank you for doing a talk at my son’s school, Bellenden Primary School, last Friday. He was shy about talking to you after school when we bought a couple of your books, but then was full of excitement and enthusiasm telling me all about your talk to the children and about your drawings, and all weekend he has been drawing aliens, asteroids, smelly socks and sound effects like “ZAP!”: he is totally inspired and loves your website and your books. The kitchen table is covered with his drawings and I will keep them all.
It does make a difference when you talk in a school. It gets kids excited about reading and drawing as well as making for a bit of fun!”
The first books in the Mega Mash-up series have reprinted, and rights have been sold to the US, France, Germany, Korea and Israel so far. We publish the fourth book, Pirates v Ancient Egyptians in a Haunted Museum, in September, and three more next year.
Children’s and YA author Nicola Morgan has written a funny and interesting blog post about Sainsbury’s and the injustice of it winning the Martina Cole General or Chain Bookseller of the Year Award at the Bookseller Industry Awards this year.
This was, I’m pretty sure, the first time that the award had gone to a supermarket chain, and even in the course of the award event there was scorn being poured on the judging panel’s decision by various people on Twitter. The most cursory Googling reveals that the controversy continued the next day and beyond, and The Bookseller felt it had to justify the decision of the judging panel. But while I admire Nicola Morgan’s books and idealism, I have to disagree with her. I think Sainsbury’s, who managed to create a really big jump in book sales in a very challenging market, was a worthy winner of this particular award (and there are other awards that go to other, and other kinds of booksellers, in the same awards ceremony).
Don’t get me wrong. At Nosy Crow, we love all our retail customers and recognise and celebrate daily the role they play in the complicated and expensive business of getting physical copies of our books in front of parents and children. And we love an independent bookstore and a specialist bookselling chain at least as much as the next person.
However, it is undeniably impressive that Sainsbury’s achieved a significant increase in physical book sales predominantly from bricks-and-mortar shops at a time in which print sales are falling; one in every four books (and one in every five children’s books) is bought online in the UK; and ebook sales are growing rapidly and appearing to displace print sales.
Being a chain bookseller is exceptionally tough at the moment. Waterstones was, at the time the prize was awarded, for sale. Foyles (who won last year) and WHS (whose corporate goal is to be the nation’s most popular newsagent and stationer as well as bookshop, so isn’t quite as specialist as the other book retailers in this paragraph) are, of course, real contenders. Happily (very happily) for the book industry in the UK, Waterstones looks likely to be a powerful contender for the future as the acquisition of the chain progresses. Ottakars, Borders/Books Etc and British Bookshops and Stationers are no longer with us. Other book specialist alternatives might have been Book Warehouse (who sell mainly but not exclusively remainder books) or Oxfam Bookshops (who sell mainly but not exclusively second-hand books), but I can’t imagine that Nicola Morgan would have celebrated either of those chains winning.
And the challenges to chain bookselling are not unique to the UK: Barnes & Noble is changing hands and Borders filed for bankruptcy in the US, and the Red Group (owners of Angus and Robertson and Borders) is in administration in Australia.
Just to remind ourselves of what the bookselling landscape is looking like at the moment (and the importance of supermarkets), here’s the graph of books purchased in the UK by source of purchase (with thanks to Books and Consumers):
This graph also points up the relative strength of Sainsbury’s bookselling performance relative to the performance of supermarkets in general between 2009 and 2010.
In this context, the growing role of Sainsbury in the UK bookselling market is an important one. The decision by Sainsbury – or any other supermarket – to back a book can entirely transform the financial fortunes of a book. At Nosy Crow, we were really delighted and excited when the small team of dedicated children’s book buyers at Sainsbury’s backed several of our first titles, including risky ones: a debut novel (Small Blue Thing) and a series that is an innovative mix of fiction and doodling from an author/illustrator team with a limited track-record (Mega Mash-up). We’ll make more money on these books and so will the authors: we committed to more Mega
Mash-ups on the basis of retailer response to the first titles and Sainsbury’s was part of that.
Yes, the discounts to supermarkets are deep, but the volumes are high. The advances paid to adult blockbuster authors in particular are entirely predicated on strong supermarket sales. As a very rough estimate, I’d say that children’s authors/illustrators are earning perhaps 30p on most books sold via Sainsbury’s, so a sale of 3,000 copies might represent £900 in royalty earnings – which has to be seen in the context of the ALCS’s finding that the median annual author wage is £4,000 (and less, I would think, for children’s authors). This compares with 45p per book if the same book were sold via an independent, so the same author would have to sell 2,000 through that channel to make the same £900.
Sainsbury’s doesn’t make any claims to be promoting literacy or increasing access to books on its website statement of its goals (though, for the record it sponsored Book Start at a point when the scheme was under threat before the government funded it). From my perspective, though, anything that increases access to books (and I am writing this in the context of the recent report that three in ten households don’t contain a book, and one in three London children doesn’t own a book) and that makes buying books as easy and as unintimidating as buying bread, is a good thing.
Of course, I’d be delighted if Sainsbury’s took up Nicola Morgan’s author-touring book bus idea. I doubt they will. Sainsbury’s is a business. It allocates shelf-space and prominence to books (and everything else) on the basis of how well they sell in a particular shop. It doesn’t owe publishers or authors a living: its purpose as a business is to maximise shareholder value. If it can do that by selling books as well as bacon, I for one think that’s great. And if giving Sainsbury a particular prize for bookselling makes other retailers for whom it’s relevant think about what they might do to earn the award next time around, so much the better.
I mean my trip to Australia last week, from which I am still recovering (thank you, British Airways economy class… though a total of 46 hours in the air out of 156 hours takes it out of you however you travel, probably).
The main event was the Allen and Unwin sales conference. It was great to spend time with the people at Allen and Unwin, not least because I wouldn’t have been able to pick any of them out of a line-up just six short months ago, and now we’re in touch almost every day. The picture above shows, from left to right, Kristy Rogerson (Children’s Product Asst); me (it’s an unflattering angle or an unflattering blouse – what can I say?!); Kate Justelius-Wright (Marketing Coordinator – Schools & Libraries); Liz Bray (Children’s Books Director); and Jyy-Wei Ip (Marketing Coordinator – Trade).
It was also good to see Robert Gorman, last seen after the London Book Fair, and who, as MD of Allen and Unwin, is head of the whole show:
Allen and Unwin starts to distribute Nosy Crow’s books this month, and some of them are already in Australian bookshops.
It was, as always when I travel abroad, interesting to look at differences (from my home territory in the UK) in the bookselling landscape and to reflect on how these impact on publishing.
The relative strength of the independent bookshop sector as a source of publishers’ sales is one thing that is striking about the Australian market, and the independent bookselling sector seems to be holding its own while chain booksellers in Australia are no more immune from the challenges of chain bookselling than other comparable operations in the US and the UK. Book Marketing Limited’s Books and the Consumer survey suggested that the UK had seen a reduction of the volume of books sold through independent bookshops to 5.4% of the UK book market by value and 15% of the market by volume (I know that’s an extraordinary disparity, but I have looked at the graphs carefully and done the sums more than once). I don’t know the comparable figures for Australia – do please tell me if you know by writing a comment – but I do know that, for example, Allen and Unwin is still producing point-of-sale display material and dumpbins in a way that UK publishers really don’t do any more… because, in our market, there aren’t enough customers able to take generic book display material to make it economically viable to produce it.
I went to some terrific independent book shops while I was in Australia, several of which had a skew towards children’s books. The first was The Children’s Bookshop and Capella Bookshop in Beecroft, a suburb of Sydney, which is run by the immensely energetic and likeable Paul Macdonald: a man as interested in talking about digital publishing and apps as he was in talking about the highly impressive list of UK authors and illustrators who have done events in the converted two bedroom flat above his shop – a group that included Jacqueline Wilson, Julia Donaldson and Anthony Browne.
Here’s Paul in the children’s section of his shop:
I dropped into The Lindfield Bookshop, in Lindfield, another Sydney suburb. I chatted to Scott Whitmont, who took time out from an Olivia Newton John dinner he was running that evening to find out a bit about Nosy Crow.
Here’s Scott in the children’s section of his shop:
I also got to meet Galina Marinov of Leading Edge, which works to amplify the marketing and buying power of Australia’s independent bookstores.
I visited other kinds of shops too (and Allen and Unwin had arranged a pretty impressive tour last time I was in Australia). I went to department stores like Myer and discount department stores like Big W. The discount department store is not something we have in the UK, and it’s interesting to see what books – UK and Australia – are in each of these different environments… and, of course, to try to picture Nosy Crow’s children’s books in them and to work out where they might fit best.
I went out to Scholastic Australia and to an extraordinary bit of Scholastic’s Australian business, Australian Standing Orders, which supplies copies of (mainly) Australian books every month to Australian school libraries. In the Scholastic Australia office in Sydney, there was a really impressive collection of framed John Winch envelopes (something that made me feel a bit squirmy about my world-class collection of Axel Scheffler envelopes, which are not so beautifully displayed):
In between, there were great conversations. I think my favourite was with Liz Bray about the challenges and rewards of her work with the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, which I found inspiring, humbling and illuminating – not bad for a car journey to a shopping mall in the suburbs of Sydney.
Of course, there were fun-‘n’-games too. Here’s Allen and Unwin’s dapper publishing legend, Paul Donovan, at a dinner (in a German restaurant) to celebrate the forthcoming publication of Australian Merridy Eastman’s gentle and funny memoir of her time spent as a German wife and mother in Munich after a whirlwind romance:
After a presentation at the Allen and Unwin sales conference, in which one rep requested either a video version of the session or a Kate Wilson/Nosy Crow Road Show, I felt I had peaked, and so consigned myself to the tender mercies of British Airways once again.
Yesterday, as those of you who follow me on Twitter might know, I went to visit ELC/Mothercare and met Sophie Ellwood (centre in this picture) for the first time.
And I got to thinking, as Carrie Bradshaw used to say: what makes a good buyer?
Of course, what makes a good buyer of physical books from a retailer’s own perspective is that they buy what the retailer’s customers want or need to buy: the right number of the right books at the right price (so that the retailer can maximise sustainable profit).
We can’t, as publishers, entirely know how well buyers are doing on this measure (though I thought it sounded as if the ELC/Mothercare team was doing pretty well). For us – well, for me, anyway – while these things matter, other things matter too, expecially in the context of presenting new projects.
Here are some of them:
It’s great when a buyer is responsive. It’s a nerve-racking thing to present your books, and it’s encouraging when a buyer is clearly engaged, makes comments and asks questions.
It’s great when a buyer imparts useful information. Buyers are trying to buy what their customers want and need so it is helpful to understand from the buyer what they think their customers want and need. And it’s useful to have background information on how sales are going for your books specifically and for books in general and on any plans for books that the retailer might have.
It’s great when a buyer is decisive. I know from experience that it is tough to say “no” to someone you don’t know particularly well, but if something isn’t right for a retailer, I, for one, would rather know it isn’t. It saves time, and may stop a publisher making the wrong print decision or uninformed publishing decisions. It’s great to have reasons that are clear… though I’d be the first to acknowledge that responses to concepts and art is a very subjective thing and it’s sometimes hard to define why something doesn’t look quite right for your customers. If a buyer can articulate it, it’s good to know what is right, or not right, about a format, a cover, a concept, a story, artwork.
It’s great when a buyer is open. Sometimes buyers say “no” to things that they see at an early stage. As a supplier, you have to judge what things to let slide, and what things you should introduce again, to get a conversation going again. Some buyers are willing to reopen conversations, and some are less so.
It’s great when a buyer follows through. Of course, it’s all very well being impressive at the presentation. What ultimately matters is that the orders come through; that the book is available in the shop or shops and positioned where you agreed it would be; and that the customers buy it, confirming the buyer’s judgement in the first place.
Sophie scored really well on my personal scorecard for points one to four, which is what prompted me to write this. But because it’s the first time we’ve met, I can’t tell you about the last point, though she has a very good reputation for this too!
Sophie liked a lot of Nosy Crow’s Books. My fingers are now firmly crossed…
“I was off to Waterstones today, to show them material on our books from May to August. May is the first month in which we have more than one book or pair of books from the same series, so that felt like a bit of a breakthrough.
Lyn Gardner is a terrific children’s writer and a Guardian theatre critic, who has brought her skill, her passion and her knowledge together to create the Olivia books, which are classy-but-commercial Ballet Shoes meets Malory Towers for today’s 8+ girl reader. The first book in the series, Olivia’s First Term publishes in June.
Dinosaur Dig! is Penny Dale’s innovative combination of two things little boys (in particular) love: dinosaurs and diggers. These dinosaurs are (spoiler alert!) digging a swimming pool and making a lot of noise about it. The book was inspired by Penny’s construction vehicle-obsessed grandson, Zachary, to whom the book is dedicated. The book publishes in May.
The Noodle books by French illustrator Marion Billet are touch and feel books with a very attractive panda character whose life reflects the daily activities and excitements of most babies under the age of 18 months. Two books publish in May and two in August.
Where possible, we try to make sure that books with a summery themes, featuring holidays, or swimming, or beaches, which are, therefore, possible summer reading promotion contenders, are published in these months, so the ocean setting of the third Mega Mash-up, the beach holiday theme of Bizzy Bear: Off We Go! and of Noodle Loves the Beach, as well as the swimming pool finale of Dinosaur Dig! all make them books we think babies and children would be in the right frame of mind for as the weather gets warmer. Trudging through the rain, weaving round discarded and dessicated Christmas trees this morning, it was hard to believe we’d ever see summer again, but publishing is always about thinking ahead: full-colour books take months to get from the printer to the warehouse, and we are selling rights and doing highlights presentations up nine months, and even more, ahead of the books being available to readers.
The first presentation – to Waterstones – went very well. Lots more presentations to come…”
Since the beginning of October, Kate has been to Germany three times (OK, once it was for the Frankfurt Book Fair, but still…), has been to France and Holland once each and has been round the world in 11 days, flying from London to the East Coast of America and then on to Sydney (a trip that involved two 21 hour flights in 3 days).
The purpose of all this travel? She’s trying to find homes for Nosy Crow’s titles in different countries and languages. There’s lots of interest from lots of people in lots of things. Kate (with Adrian) saw 120 people in Frankfurt and 30+ publishers or imprints of publishers in the USA over 5 days (it was like speed-dating, really: her most remarkable day involved 11 appointments in 14 hours).
We’re following all the expressions of interest up diligently,and will have more to announce soon, but one important big deal has come out of all the travelling so far: we’ve appointed our Australian distributor, Allen and Unwin. As well as being Australia’s biggest and best Australian publisher (they’ve won the Publisher of the Year award nine times), they’re independent and… very nice, being enthusiastic and easy to deal with. And they’re based in Crows Nest, which is a bit of Sydney. How good an omen is that?
As well as distributing Nosy Crow, they distribute a handful of important UK publishers like Faber, Profile and Bloomsbury. It is, really, a privilege to have been added to their portfolio, because they don’t say “yes” to just anyone.
As Robert Corman, who is the CEO of Allen and Unwin, said in a press release:
“At Allen and Unwin we love partnering with clever independent publishers. That is why we are delighted to be representing Nosy Crow in Australia and New Zealand. We greatly look forward to helping them grow their business in the ANZ market.”
And Liz Bray, Children’s Book Director of Allen and Unwin, says:
“We’ve been following Nosy Crow’s activities with great interest since they announced their establishment in the UK earlier this year and admired the energy, savvy and passion of their team as well as the books they’re producing. We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to work with them in Australia and New Zealand on books from much-loved creators like Axel Scheffler as well as new stars including S.C. Ransom. Nosy Crow’s innovative, child-focused books have great potential in our markets and will be a fantastic complement to our own publishing and the wonderful children’s lists we distribute.”
So that’s another important part of Nosy Crow’s jigsaw in place, and we are very chuffed.
While we’ve been working throughout the summer, today was the first day in a while that Imogen, Kate, Camilla and Adrian have convened in the office, and, though Deb: wasn’t with us as she’s on holiday, and Steph and Kate B have yet to start (they join us on 13 September), it did feel like the beginning of a new phase, as we rev up to publication of our first app in October 2010 and our first print publication in January 2011.
This feeling was reinforced by the arrival today of bound proofs of Mega Mash-up: Romans v Dinosaurs on Mars They were very, very handsome. We’d set out to create a unique package combining fiction with doodling, in a fiction-friendly paperback format and with two-colour illustration throughout. They’re novels, but they invite even the most reluctant reader in by suggesting that they complete the illustrations. What’s more, they’re funny in a scatalogical boy way (funnier even than a book has any right to be whose central premise is that dinosaurs and Romans will have to work together to save their Martian colony from an asteroid by firing hardened dinosaur dung from catapults). And they look great!
Here’s Imogen, fast becoming our book production as well as our admin supremo, looking through one of the proofs. We need them to check that we haven’t made any mistakes (so we have sent them to Kirsty, their editor, and Nikalas and Tim, who created them. We also need them so that Nosy Crow and Bounce can show them to booksellers, some of whom have already told us they like them: Waterstones will be promoting Mega Mash-up: Romans v Dinosaurs on Mars in stores on publication in February 2011. We’ll also be taking them to the Frankfurt book fair, to sell translation rights.
Well, we made another big step forward today: we announced who was going to act as our sales agent (selling our books to bookshops in the UK and export markets) who will distribute our books.
We’ve appointed Bounce Sales and Marketing as our UK and export sales agency, and they’ll start selling in our books immediately, in time for the publication of our first books in January 2011.
Bounce is a specialist children’s agency who sell books for several children’s book publishers, including Templar and Piccadilly Press.
Over the past few months, we’ve taken our time to investigate our selling options carefully: it’s a big deal to entrust an important part of your success to anyone. After reviewing all our options, we made our decision. We feel that Bounce is a really impressive organisation. They are children’s book specialists with a great track record as they already sell major children’s lists like Templar Books and Piccadilly Press. In fact, they have more people in the field than any other children’s specialist sales force, so their coverage of accounts in the UK is particularly good. The company was founded and is run by Robert Snuggs (that’s him in the picture with Kate), who Kate has worked with before (and, in the publishing business, personal relationships count for a lot).
Robert says, “Everyone at Bounce is thrilled that we’re going to help launch the Nosy Crow list to the trade in the UK and internationally. Nosy Crow is the most significant, innovative and dynamic new independent children’s publishing company to be established in the UK for years and we know that it will quickly prove itself to be a major source of income for booksellers everywhere. The launch list is quite exceptional and we’re very excited about working with Kate and her team to promote their top authors and illustrators and brilliant books in the months ahead.”
We’ve appointed Grantham Book Services (GBS) as our distributor, having, again, explored our options carefully. Bounce’s connection with GBS (most of Bounce’s publishers are distributed by GBS) made it a natural choice for us. We want really reliable distribution and good information about which of our books are selling where and GBS already supplies both of these services to other independent publishers.
GBS is owned by The Random House Group, and Ian Hudson, Deputy CEO The Random House Group, said, “I’m delighted that Nosy Crow has chosen to partner with GBS as it sets out to build its exciting new business. This will be a fantastic alliance of expertise between this up-and-coming children’s publisher, an excellent sales and marketing agency and a first class distributor of independent publishers.”
So that’s another milestone.
Oh, and we hope that you’ve spotted some changes to this page of our site, which we are now acknowledging is, in fact, a blog.
Two Nosy Crow directors, Kate and Adrian, found themselves in Bath this week – not a city they know well – with their children. And being Nosy Crows, they investigated the bookshops en famille. Book-browsing and book-buying in cities other than your own is always an interesting experience for anyone in the industry. While central Bath is a special, prosperous kind of place with lots of tourist money, so no more representative than the Metropolis, Kate’s UK-wide bookselling experience at Scholastic was a great corrective to the London-centric views and experience that she finds dominate publishing, so she particularly values non-London bookshop experiences.
First they went to Waterstones (great location on Milsom Street), which showed evidence of the New Localisation, with lots of Jane Austen-related stuff in the windows. There was also an impressive backlist “books you should have read” table. And it was cheeringly busy, too.
They bought My Family And Other Animals by Gerald Durrell and Second Form at Mallory Towers by Enid Blyton.
The older child said, “Waterstones had the largest range and was very intriguing to explore… but there was hardly any Agatha Christie.”
The younger child said, “S’all right.”
Then they went to Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights (pictured). Kate had met some Mr B’s people at the IPG/Independent Bookseller’s Forum event in May, and they were as nice on home turf as they were in London. It’s a really lovely shop, tempting you to buy stuff you really didn’t know you wanted. They bought Moonfleet by J Meade Falkner (a book they’d forgotten altogether – you see what we mean?), Third Year at Mallory Towers by Enid Blyton and Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill (a book they didn’t know existed – again, you see what we mean?). There were lots of expensive hardback Agatha Christies, but they didn’t buy them.
Adrian said, “Really interesting staff recommendations, with lots of interesting stuff face-out.”
Then they went to W H Smith – and that Bath W H Smith is a good ‘un, with a strong book range. They bought back-to-school stationery (so much cheaper than Paperchase), and Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie.
The younger child’s favourite shop in Bath is Paperchase.
Adrian’s favourite shop in Bath is “the kitchen shop round the corner from Mr B’s Emporium"
Bath is lucky. Within a really short distance there are three very different book buying experiences – chain bookshop, independent bookshop, chain bookseller/newsagent/stationer – each of which is a really good example of its kind.