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Articles tagged with: bookshops

Bookshops matter

Posted by Kate on Mar 22, 2013

The video above is a really lovely little stop-motion animation celebrating physical books in a physical bookshop

On 7 February 2013, the BBC Radio 4 programme, The Bottom Line, was about the book trade. Agent, Jonny Geller; head of HarperCollins, Vicky Barnsley; and Michael Tamblyn, now chief content officer at ereading service and device company, Kobo, were interviewed by Evan Davis. About 12 minutes into the programme (and you can still listen to it by downloading it here), Evan Davis said, “When we look at the three roles… am I wrong to say that one of you is surplus to requirements?”.

A month later at the Independent Publishers Guild conference, Philip Jones quoted Stephen Page’s comment that there was a lot of cross-dressing going on in the industry between agents, publishers and booksellers, but Philip added that it seemed to him that “booksellers were slow to remove their clothes”. Actually, I was thinking that all of us are slow to remove our clothes, in that we are happy to take on other roles (Amazon becoming a publisher, publishers selling direct to consumers, agents publishing ebooks of their clients’ backlists… but none of us wants to give up any part of our existing role.

Agents, publishers and etailers are all working out their role in the new world of online selling and digital content, but there is a growing focus on the sector that’s been cast as the Cinderella of the whole book industry: the bricks-and-mortar bookshop. There is, too, a proper recognition of its crucial role in introducing readers, particularly child readers, to books.

While children’s book sales through physical bookshops are still relatively robust, and while ebook sales for children is a market that is proving slow to grow (just 2% of the children’s books sold in the UK last year were ebooks), bricks-and-mortar bookshops cannot sustain themselves by children’s book sales alone.

Tom wrote a blog post about what bookshops should be prompted by Foyles investigation into the subject.

And our Stories Aloud initiative was partly inspired by a desire to offer independent bookstores a way of offering digital content (in this case, a digital audio file with a voice reading of the whole book, sound effects and specially-composed music) to their customers in a “bundle” with the book.

Today, there’s a report in The Bookseller on new research by Bowker Market Reasearch adn Enders Analysis that underlines the importance of bricks and mortar bookshops.to publishing and confirms their role in enabling readers to discover books.

The data, presented at the Books and Consumers conference on Wednesday, emphasised the importance of physical book shops in the discovery of children’s books for 0-12 year-olds, where the request of the child remains the strongest purchase prompt: 41% of children’s book spend in 2012 happened in bookshops, and 24% happened in other kinds of bricks-and-mortar shops.

The link to The Bookseller piece is here.

As the piece says, both Douglas McCabe of Enders Analysis, and Jo Henry of Bowker Market Research agreed on the crucial role of bookshop browsing. Enders Analysis estimates that serendipity and discovery generate as much as two-thirds of UK general book sales, much of this down to bookshops. ‘There is almost nothing that can be done to sustain the health of the network of bookshops that should be collectively considered too extravagant,’ McCabe said. ‘Without bookshops, publishing would have to rethink its model at every level.’

Jo Henry estimated that physical booksellers were responsible for the discovery of some 21% of all consumer book purchases in 2012, representing £450m in value. A total of 45% of purchases where the buyer hadn’t yet decided what to buy were made through bricks-and-mortar shops.

But the research showed a higher number of books being bought from internet-only businesses than from bricks-and-mortar stores for the first time in 2012 and consumers who bought e-books also bought more of their physical books through internet retailers, suggesting that when readers move to buying e-books they also switch from bookshops to e-tailers to buy their physical books.

So if you value your local bookshop, buy your books there.

You've Got Mail - how bookselling has changed in 15 years and why I'm rooting for Joe Fox nowadays

Posted by Kate on Feb 21, 2013

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.

On the BBC Radio 4 programme, The Bottom Line, HarperCollins’ Vicky Barnsley suggested that bookshops might charge people for browsing.

Foyles has held open workshops on the future of bookshops.

The Bookseller blogged on the new willingness to explore new ways of doing things among booksellers.

The Irish Times yesterday suggested that government or church funding or subsidy might help to create an iconic bookshop in Dublin that would act as a cultural hub.

Last weekend, Lucy Mangan shared her horror, with characteristic wit, at news of Amazon’s “used” ebook marketplace and used the great phrase, “the walking unread”.

And we invited you to tell us what you thought a bookshop should be like in this blog post.

Finally, this joyful stop-motion animation captures some of the vibrancy and colour of a great physical bookshop, with its punchline, “There’s nothing quite like a real book”. Or a real bookshop.

What should bookshops be?

Posted by Tom on Feb 12, 2013

Later this year, the independent book chain Foyles will move their flagship store from its current location on Charing Cross Road to a new, purpose-built bookshop build on the site of the former premises of Central St Martins School of Art. In preparation for the move, Foyles are holding a series of workshops – called “Future Foyles” – with publishers, agents, booksellers, members of the trade and interested punters in attendance, and with the aim of producing some ideas about what the new store should “be”. You can read The Bookseller’s report of the first workshop here.

I think the project is an excellent one, not least because, in order to compete with Amazon – who will always be able to offer lower prices, particularly if they’re not under pressure to make a profit, and are focussed, instead, on building market share – bookshops need to be just as innovative in offering other things. Their core, irreplacable strengths – the things that Internet shopping can’t replicate – are things that Foyles already “do” very well: knowledgeable staff, an enjoyable, physical browsing experience, and thoughtful, intelligent content curation that’s based on human experience rather than algorithms.

But if those aspects are merely necessary – but not sufficient – what should come next? How should bookshops “evolve” to cope with the increasing pressures of online retail’s low prices and e-offerings, a concomitant shift away from high street shopping, and economic downturn? I was intrigued by HarperCollins CEO Victoria Barnsley’s suggestion to BBC Radio4 that bookshops could consider levying a browsing fee upon customers, though judging from Foyles’ CEO Sam Husain’s distinctly measured response – “It is a fairly challenging thought to take on board, but really, it is ideas like that we want to think about and have to brainstorm” – it’s probably a touch more left-field than he had in mind.

The Bookseller reports that one person in attendance at yesterday’s event, Matt Finch, a freelance community outreach consultant, was interested “in how the future Foyles could appeal to people as a cultural space”, which strikes me as another of the things that the book chain has begun to do really well (last year they held events related to plays, visual art exhibitions, concerts, and more) and could expand upon easily with a dedicated space. It’s something that Rebecca Smart of the Osprey Group spoke about at Digital Book World, linking up ideas around the challenges to bookshops specifically, a Mary Portas-style vision of a revived town centre, and the closure of libraries.

I’ll be particularly interested to see how Foyles treat the children’s section of the new store, which perhaps more than any other area has the potential to be something truly imaginative and wonderful.

When I think about my favourite book shops, the elements that immediately stand out are their beauty (which can be harder to achieve for a chain – though Apple Stores often succeed), friendliness, and a more intangible quality; atmosphere – the best bookshops exude a quiet sense of calm that no other sort of shop can equal. I’m not at all averse to bookshops with cafes attached to them, but I say why stop there – why not a wine bar, or really decent food?

What do you look for in a good bookshop? How do you think current stores could improve their children’s sections? And what would you like to see in Foyles’ new headquarters? If you’d like to participate in the Future Foyles events, they’re free to anyone who’d like to attend – you can find out more here.

My Name is Kate Wilson and I Am a Print Reader

Posted by Kate on Sep 24, 2012

At the weekend, I read this blog post by a reader who finds books on her Kindle less compelling than printed books… so she finds she has a lot of unread stuff on her Kindle as she’s distracted by the print titles she has to hand.

I rather hesitate to admit it, but I think that perhaps I feel the same. Regular readers of this blog may vaguely remember a blog post I wrote in summer 2011. It was really about Frances Spufford’s engaging and clever book, The Child That Books Built, but the post was illustrated with a photograph of the 33 print books (and we had two Kindles and an iPad too) that we had, as a family of four, taken on holiday. That holiday, I read a lot.

But this year when we went on holiday, while the children did bring print books, Adrian and I brought a single paperback each and a Kindle each. The result? We read for pleasure much, much less (and we worked much more) than we had the previous year. Somehow, not having the shelf of books catching your eye in the holiday cottage made reading for pleasure less of a temptation. And we hadn’t gone through that process of selecting and buying books especially for the holiday: we’d chosen the cottage in part because it had Wi-Fi so we knew that we could download anything to the Kindle whenever we wanted to. But somehow, we never did want to: there was always an email to answer or a blog-post to write or an article or manuscript to read (of course, reading manuscripts is reading too, but it’s not reading for pleasure). I hadn’t sort of committed to any books before I left for the holiday, and that meant I read less.

In the course of the holiday, I started a couple of ebooks, but I have to admit that the only book I finished was the print one, which was Thinking Fast and Slow as it happens. It’s actually a good example of the kind of book I’d only buy in print form. I have had bad experiences of buying the kind of books that require tables and diagrams or pictures or columns (as Thinking Fast and Slow does) in ebook form, and now I never take the risk: it annoys and baffles me that publishers make available ebook versions of books as varied as Guy Deutcher’s The Unfolding of Language or Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle’s Down With Skool that are, in parts at least, unreadable. Sorry – tangential grouch over.

I don’t dislike reading ebooks, and there are places – public transport, for example – when I really only read books now on my phone or my Kindle. And of course I understand – and speak publicly about – all the advantages of ereading, But I don’t seem to find ebooks as tempting as print books. Is it just because I can’t see them? But I am “tempted” equally by chocolate “hidden” in the fridge and chocolate on my desk, so I don’t think it can be that simple.

You may, rightly, think that I am knocking on a bit, so I might be struggling to adjust to reading ebooks. I don’t think that’s the issue. But, in any event, I asked my elder child, who’s 13 and who has a Kindle (she got one for Christmas 2011: she really wanted one), why she preferred to read print books rather than ebooks (and she manifestly does). She said, “I don’t feel that ebooks are ‘mine’ in the same way that print books are: reading ebooks is like having a library card with Amazon. I read before I go to sleep and I put the (print) book under my pillow, but I’d be worried about crushing the Kindle if I did that to the Kindle. I like seeing how books are presented – what the jackets are like – particularly through time. For example, I like comparing my Folio edition of Bleak House with the paperback I have. Then there are books that you can’t get in ebook form at all, like The Gruffalo. And you can’t browse in Amazon like you can browse in a bookshop.” I asked if she ever thought that she might see a book in print form in a book shop and then order it on Amazon. She wasn’t aware that she could do this, but she didn’t seem gripped by the idea.

I’m aware that it’s odd that a strong advocate for reading digitally (particularly enabling children to have compelling reading experiences on tablet devices), should be a bit draggy-feet-y when it comes to ereading myself, but the Fluttering Butterflies blog post about the draw of print books relative to the draw of ebooks did chime with me, so I thought I would be honest.

This is my experience. What’s yours?

Mega Mash-up: Aliens v Mad Scientists under the Ocean - some feedback

Posted by Kate on Jul 05, 2011

Two weeks ago, we published the third of Nikalas Catlow and Tim Wesson’s funny, clever and innovative new Mega Mash-up series of Draw-Your-Own-Adventure books, Mega Mash-up: Aliens v Mad Scientists under the Ocean.

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.

Why it was fine that Sainsbury's won The General or Chain Bookseller of the Year Award

Posted by Kate on Jun 08, 2011

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.

Kate's Australian trip

Posted by Kate on May 10, 2011

Well, that was fun. Tiring, of course, but fun.

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):

Oh, and there were interviews with, among others, Susanne Gervay for Reading Time and for The Little Big Book Club.

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.

What makes a good (book) buyer (from my perspective)?

Posted by Kate on Jan 28, 2011

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…

It's that time of year... when you present highlights to key accounts

Posted by Kate on Jan 07, 2011

Kate writes:

“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.

The photo is a glimpse of the inside of my case.

Some of the books, as the eagle-eyed among you will see, were continuations of series published between January and April of this year. Mega Mash-up: Mad Scientists and Aliens under the Ocean is the June follow up to February’s Mega Mash-up: Romans and Dinosaurs on Mars and Mega Mash-up: Robots and Gorillas in the Desert ; Perfectly Reflected is the sequel to Small Bue Thing ; and Bizzy Bear: Off We Go! (in which Bizzy Bear goes on holiday and seems to meet a very nice female koala) and Bizzy Bear: Let’s Get to Work! (in which Bizzy Bear works on a contruction site… presumably to finance his travels) are June sequels to March’s Bizzy Bear: Fun on the Farm and Bizzy Bear: Let’s Go and Play!.

However, there is much that’s new:

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+ 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 many children, and many 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 desiccated 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…”

Bath Bookshops

Posted by Kate on Aug 19, 2010

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 older child’s favourite shop in Bath is Mr B’s Emporium.

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.

It's showtime! Selling books to the big retailers

Posted by Kate on Aug 05, 2010

It is that time of year. The tubes are hot and sticky, London is preternaturally quiet, you can get a lot of apricots for £1, and the key account buyers are seeing publishers to look at their January to April 2011 books, and work out what – if anything – they might want to do with them in terms of promotions.

This is necessarily an opaque business: the buyers have to see everyone before they decide what books make the grade, so you show them what you have and you then try to decode every little comment that they make.

This is Nosy Crow’s first season, and, to tell the truth, it’s been years and years since Kate’s done a key account presentation. All in all, it’s pretty nerve-racking.

Here, for your eyes only, is a glimpse inside The Suitcase that Kate’s trundling around. You’ll see a folder of New Title Information sheets (the top one’s for Small Blue Thing); some little brochures that we’ve had printed up; and laboriously hand-made dummies for Bizzy Bear: Fun on the Farm, Mega Mash-up: Romans v Dinosaurs on Mars, Mega Mash-up: Robots v Gorillas in the Desert, and (open) Pip and Posy: The Super Scooter. You’ll also see a rather fine Nosy Crow mug which is one of a few little presents that we give them, sort of like trying to tame tigers by throwing them small scraps. The presents all get wrapped individually in lime-green (the same colour as the border round this post) tissue paper. Honestly, it’s the most enormous faff getting the whole thing ready.

But, so far, with three down and many more to go, it’s been worth it. It’s another step towards our proper launch next year (Small Blue Thing publishes in January 2011 and is our first title), and the feedback, or at least such feedback as we’ve had, has been positive. In fact, we have our first order, which is a bit of an exciting moment.

Axel exhibits at Daunt Books

Posted by Kate on May 26, 2010

Camilla, Adrian and Kate went to Axel Scheffler’s exhibition and sale of art at glorious independent book shop, Daunt Books, in Marylebone High Street (Axel signing, pictured).

Brilliant paper engineer, Nick Denchfield was there with illustrators Ant Parker and Helen Cowcher. Lots of old publishing friends were there including Ian Craig (ex Random House, now the wilds of Scotland), Alison Green (Alison Green Books, Scholastic), Lisa Edwards (Scholastic) and Louise Bolongaro (Penguin) together with journalists and literary agents and scouts.

It was, as always, a huge pleasure to see gruffalos, witches, ducks, rabbits and geese in all their original artwork glory.

A bunch of us went out for pizza afterwards – and Axel’s daughter, Adelie (two and a half) – joined us, and, frankly, was less tired than the rest of us by the end of the evening.

Today, Kate was interviewed by Anja Steig of Buchreport, Germany’s book industry magazine: it’s great to think that she chose Nosy Crow as one of the people she wanted to talk to while she was here: tomorrow, she’s interviewing Dominic Myers, MD of Waterstones.

Waterstones will be important to Nosy Crow when we start selling books next year, but here’s an interesting and not altogether cheering US book industry statistic reported by Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) from BEA (Book Expo America) today: 7% of books published generate 87% of sales and 93% of all published books sell less than 1,000 copies each.

One day down, two to go

Posted by Kate on Apr 19, 2010

Today was the first day of the London Book Fair.

Kate had expected to see tumbleweed rolling in the aisles, but in fact it wasn’t like that, at least for Nosy Crow. A lot of our meetings were with UK people – agents, retailers and others – and we had huge trouble keeping up with our schedule. We were constantly on the move from place to place, as we only have a share of a table on the IPG stand (all we could get when we tried to book just after our 22 February 2010 launch). Here (with apologies for another terrible photo) are Deb and Imogen on the stand.

We went to a couple of seminars this morning, of which the first, about creativity in relation to content for children in the digital world, was really good. Chaired by Chris Meade and with Naomi Alderman, Amanda Wood and Neal Hoskins, it was an intelligent look at different ways that children’s reading experience might be affected by the technological devices that are available.

The second, which was about how bricks bookshops might evolve in a digital era was either reassuring or scary, depending on how you look at it. Clever Jonathan Douglas asked trenchant questions of John Newman and Simon Mackay of Westfield’s Foyles, who were resoundingly chipper in the face of digital developments. Nosy Crow loves an independent bookshop, and really hopes that their focus on community, hand-selling, recommendation, connection to schools and children’s events is the way they’ll keep thriving into a future in which Mike Shatzkin estimates that 50% of books will be sold online in 2012 (in the US).

Kate tweeted both seminars (@nosycrow and #lbfdc and #lbfk – this last # is new, and could be used by anyone who wants to tweet about children’s books at the fair, she thought).

Book shop felicity

Posted by Kate on Feb 08, 2010

Kate had a happy lunch with cheery and cheering duo Felicity Rubinstein and Sarah Lutyens and was tempted to move into their really lovely Lutyens and Rubinstein bookshop on Kensington Park Road. Kate bought a copy of Little Plum by Rumer Godden, a book she’d almost forgotten existed despite having loved it as a child and ate more freshly-baked gingernuts than was at all sensible.