Monday, 1 October 2012

The Changing Face of Waterstones

For years Waterstones has been very supportive of its local authors. What is happening now?

There are changes going on! Waterstones is selling Kindle e-readers to its customers, with the idea of customers browsing  books in their shops – the touchy feely version, as normal – and then if they want an ebook version they can download it on the premises. How this will work for them, as a profitable venture will remain to be seen. I guess they feel people are doing this anyway, and if they can be part of the experience so much the better. In other words, if you can’t beat them, join them!

More to the point here, Waterstones shops are cutting back on their author signing events. All the booksellers I have spoken to about this across a number of branches, are pretty upset by this initiative from their newish CEO James Daunt but feel helpless to express their opinion. For a variety of reasons, they see author visits as good for business.  As I understand it, the focus will be on very well-known authors (including celebrities who happen to have brought out a book) giving talks ‘out of hours’ in the evening.  The hope is for queues of people lining the pavements, as in days of old. This idea will make it more difficult for new writers to become ‘established’. Come on bookshops! Surely you can’t expect publishers and authors to do all the promotional work for you!!
Waterstones launch book signing
 of first novel, Gypsies Stop tHere 2008
I have done 3 book launches and over 30 book signings in Waterstones since 2008, when I first launched Gypsies Stop tHere (as well as Borders and events).

They can be hard work, but I thoroughly enjoy doing them (not all authors do), have met people from all walks of life and had stimulating discussions at my little table of books. People have waved goodbye smilingly as they went out of the shop with a signed copy of my book(s), like old friends.
In The Author, the Society of Authors quarterly magazine, I read:  “In August, The Bookseller reported that Waterstones might be getting cold feet about hosting author events in its stores. The root of the problem seems to be some individual writers, uninvited, over-zealously promoting their books to customers in Waterstones shops …"  It would seem that “inappapropiate activities of a few” have spoilt it for the rest of us  - who do not appear to have overcooked things. Indeed I have heard of one writer who is particularly forthcoming – the culprit shall remain anonymous; very diplomatically, booksellers can never recall his name, but from the descriptions I am sure he is the same one. I completely  understand that customers do not want to be accosted; there is a gentle way of doing things, but simple guidelines could be suggested and the situation easily ‘policed’ by the booksellers.
Launch of Shades of Appley Green 2012
I am not sure what the future holds for authors – one branch manager has already said that my visit was their last one of the ‘old signing events’ but  they hope to arrange something else with me soon; so I hope this indicates that all is not lost! Meanwhile, inevitably, much as I value the strong relationship I have built over the years with Waterstones, (with all my books stocked by their wholesaler so they get a discount on a par with mainstream publishers), perhaps I shall need to switch my focus to smaller booksellers and ebooks. Many other authors must be in the same boat and I would love to hear from you.
I will keep you posted and if anyone has any further info or thoughts on the subject, please do leave a comment – as a writer, a reader, a bookshop or a Waterstones bookseller!

Will this be the last?


  1. A marvellous article Miriam. I am one of those authors who had arranged a signing with a large Waterstones only to have it pulled at the eleventh hour when the policy came into play. The staff and I were both disappointed but hey, that's life!
    I succeeded in getting into local bookshops who are independent and still like promoting local authors so my advice to others is seek out the little man in the street.
    Thanks for this insight. Much appreciated.

  2. Sadly, our little man in the (High) Street couldn't afford the rent! Oh, dear. I had a similar experience, Carol - a city-based WS saying they would host a book-signing if I sold 'x' amount at a smaller WS store. I honoured that (in a customer-friendly manner. The staff at the smaller store were delighted). Unfortunately, the city-based WS didn't feel honour-bound to keep their side of the agreement. As a published author who knows the importance of presenting a professional image at all times, I found the whole experience pretty demeaning, to be honest.

  3. Blogged about this last week - Same story. Suggesting Tweeting @waterstones to let them know how disappointed we are. Read the comments I got. If there is nothing 'more' than Amazon, people will go to Amazon. Shame!

  4. I don't understand why they're stopping the signings in the first place? It doesn't make any sense to me? Surely its a win-win situation? What am I missing?
    As a Brit abroad (Portugal), I've never had a book signing. There are few book stores in this little corner of the world! I sell much more ebooks these days!

  5. **sighs deeply** I totally missed the boat on the WS signings. My book came out after the new policy came into place and I have had rejection after rejection. I've been quoted reasons such as the margins on any sale I might make would be simply too small for them to be worth the effort. I don't really get that, I have to confess. I mean, for a local, new author to be there for a little while during store hours--it's not like they're losing anything? And if there's a buzz in the store from a signing, surely there will be extra business as people pick up and buy more books? I am totally stunned by the new policy. Whether or not I'll manage to blag an opportunity remains to be seen. Great post, Miriam, and very timely. Good luck with it all and keep us posted!

  6. I agree it's a backwards mentality shift on the part of Waterstones, but the lovely thing about policies and rulings is that they are never fixed and can always change again, assuming someone with smarts at the top of the food chain eventually twigs this ; )

  7. Carol - have checked out your blog post and commented - so sorry I missed this before, but we are singing the same tune.
    Thanks for all your comments - hope to see more from varying perspectives!

  8. I have, on occasion, travelled longish distances (e.g. Reading to Brighton, twice) to attend author events at Waterstones. I am worried that the supply of worthwhile events is drying up. I do hope thepolicy will get changed eventually.

  9. It's good to hear from a reading, bookloving customer! I am interested to know how you would define 'worthwhile'. Readers have their favourite genres and so on, but what kind of author would justify travelling a distance, for you, Pierre? You don't have to answer that if you would rather not :-)

  10. The Brighton branch of Waterstones has a great choice of short story collections; both times there were authors of short story collections launching their books.

  11. Thank you Pierre - this just shows how an individual can have a quite specific preference and is prepared to go the extra mile to find it!

  12. I think it's quite sad how we have campaigns like "save our bookshop" or whatever, yet a major organisation like WS is holding back. The other thing I find quite sad is how so many celebrity "authors" are being given a huge amount of promotion simply because of who they are, whilst the talented author has to step aside. It's simply not good enough.