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.