29Mar

Buying Power

Huzzah for the changes at Waterstone’s:

Waterstone’s managing director Dominic Myers has made his first structural change in how the business operates, since taking over in January, moving away from a category management system of book buying while giving stores back some of their buying power.

The moves come ahead of an analyst and press briefing being held today (26th March), at which Myers and HMV chief executive Simon Fox will set out the chain’s new strategic direction.

Myers has restructured the 18-strong buying team to concentrate buying on either range or campaign stock. Previously the buyers bought individual categories across frontlist and backlist.

When I worked for the bookselling chain Ottakar’s, this was pretty much how things worked. Ottakar’s was all about trusting the people who work in stores, and letting them have a say in what books they should support. A return to this is a good thing. Why?

Well, not every area of the country is the same for a start. There are local changes, nuances. A quiet, backwater locations are not going to want hundreds of copies of the latest award-winning novel scaled out to them, which means that title will be sitting in large piles waiting to be sent back. Neither will you get ridiculous celebrity biographies being shipped out to quaint market towns where it’s unlikely the populace would ever have heard of someone with an already tenuous claim to fame.

And booksellers work with selling an art form to the general public, and trusting them shows that they are not brain-dead till-monkeys. This move is good for range (backlist titles, older stuff, not just the new shiny, bulk-discounted books). If booksellers are trusted to make decisions, they will start pushing books they like, rather than ones they are told to sell by those higher up. They engage more enthusiastically with customers, customers consume more books and develop a good habit of regular reading. Everyone’s a winner.

I think this is also a sensible way for a physical bookstore to go. They need to engage with the local community because otherwise they cannot compete with online retailers effectively. (It’s the experience of going into a store, the benefits of that – i.e. booksellers engaging with customers, local knowledge, events, that kind of thing.) Also, it shows they’re not trying to compete with supermarkets with centralised buying decisions – a foolish mission if ever there was one.

So yeah. This is a good sign.

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About Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.

3 comments

  1. I love discovering silly things like Leicester sells more zombie books than any other waterstones, this suggests a wider range of such books is a good idea. I’m pleased to see more local decision making.

  2. It’s a shame they didn’t realise this years ago before they’d forced out their most experienced staff!

  3. About time too! Giving stores the power to cater to local trends and reinstating the role of the bookseller can only be good for the book buying public. Shame most of the experienced staff have left. Let’s hope local branches will set up events and signings that have relevence to the area. A positive change in policy, IMO