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Posted by Kate, January 28, 2011

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

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…