The Failing Highstreet


Waterstones picIn my opinion, the UK highstreet is failing, and failing with such force. Before we know it, our leading bookshops will have disintegrated to mere ash. I’m not sure where they have gone wrong. Sure, it has a lot to do with the economy and Amazon plays a huge part too, but with many shops now offering eBook downloads as part of their set up, surely they should be on the up?

I’m no business expert, I’m just a lowly GCSE student who only managed to scrape a C. There are probably a lot of unseen and technical issues only business savvy people understand.

I’m not going to offer a solution, for 1) I can’t change the world 😉 , and 2) My ideas wouldn’t work properly with my level of understanding. I’m positive though that a lot of it is down to profit and consumer demand.

All I’m going to do is tell you two stories. Both are 100% true and hopefully somewhere along the line, people may contribute their own stories to the comments. Then I’ll send this off in an envelope to the headquarters of the book chains, and maybe, just maybe, the upper echelons may see fit to respond.

The first story that I’m going to tell you about happened nearly two weeks ago. One of my favourite authors, Marcus Sedgwick, was releasing his first adult novel. A Love Like Blood has been one of my most anticipated books to read since hearing about it. So a few days before publication date, being up on social media and all (go me!) I tweeted Waterstones Lincoln (my nearest shop) to see if they were going to stock the book. I received a mighty YES and my day was made.

WaterstonesQuery

WaterstonesQuery2

I don’t actually live in Lincoln; I live about 17 miles away in a semi-rural town called Gainsborough. I needed to nip into my bank coincidentally on A Love Like Blood‘s publication day and thought: “Hey, I’ve got a WH Smith in my town, I might as well pop in and see if they have it.” I came out an unhappy boy. After speaking to the lady behind the counter, all i received in way of a response was a disinterested “Try a bigger store.”

I wasn’t too disheartened though as I knew Waterstones would be stocking it and so I tumbled into my car and drove off to Lincoln. I walked into the shop with all smiles, ready to smell and cuddle and devour A Love Like Blood, but alas, it wasn’t to be. They hadn’t got it in stock. They hadn’t sold out, I hear you asking, but never got the book in in the first place. It just so happens, for some strange and bizarre reasons unknown to man, Lincoln has a second Waterstones literally 3 minutes away. Again, not in stock.

By this point I was fuming. Not only had I been lied to (*ahem on twitter) but I wanted my book. A copy had my name on it somewhere, surely.

But guess what! Aha! I thought. Lincoln has a huge WH Smith’s. They must have it. Instead of laboriously searching all over, I just went to the checkout and asked the lady if they had it in stock. Can you guess what her response was?

No. Try a bigger store.

TRY A BIGGER STORE! HOW MUCH BIGGER DO YOU BLOODY NEED TO BE TO STOCK A DAMN BOOK!

OK, calm. Sadly, I went home empty handed. I ordered the book off The Book Depository and waited the 5 odd days before it arrived nicely on my doorstep. I’m currently reading it and loving every bit of it – but that can wait for my review.

The sad thing is, Marcus Sedgwick is an award winning author, a big name let’s say, and yet four of my closest shops failed to stock his new book. After looking on Waterstones.com reserve and collect feature, the nearest of their shops to stock it to me was in Ipswich, which was 157 miles away.

Now of course, these bookshops stock plenty of newly released titles, but I had a demand, and those shops failed to meet my consumer demand. I had to go online to seek it out, which is obviously what a lot of other people are doing. I’ve heard sales are down, again, apart from cookery books and celebrity autobiographies. If I have to hear another line about Sir Alex Fergu.. blah blah blah again. I wonder how much the ghost writer got paid?

The second story I want to share with you happened last year during my Caseworker's Front Re-Issuelibrary tour. I was travelling from library to library, promoting my newly released adult novel The Caseworker’s Memoirs. After much practice and discovering what worked and what didn’t, I attended Caistor Library. During which, a lady said to me that although she wasn’t technically savvy with a computer, every month, on her pay day, or shortly after, she takes her two grandchildren into Waterstones and tells them they can have one book each.

Now, apart from being a really sweet gesture and helping her grandchildren get into reading, she also said something that stuck with me. And that is what I’m going to leave you with. It may not be word for word, but have a think about it, and get in touch to let me know your thoughts.

Amazon are taking over. Yeah in the bookshops it may cost a couple of pounds extra, but we all need to support the actual bookshop. I feel happy that I’m doing my bit by taking my grandchildren into the shop to buy a couple of books, rather than ordering online. I just wish a few more people would do that, too.

*Top picture taken from Wikipedia

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3 thoughts on “The Failing Highstreet

  1. If we spread the same problem to DVDs and computer games, the picture shows a much bigger problem. Personally I believe the only bookshops that are doing well, are the ones that deal in secondhand books at reduced costs. Same with DVDs and games.

    I took copies of my first book into my local independent book shop. Whilst they were keen to promote a local author, they insisted on taking 30% of each sale. When you consider I paid for these books upfront and only get 10% in royalties (naive on my part) it didn’t make much sense from a financial point. Out of curiosity I asked if they could get the book in if a customer asked for it, to be told it would take 7 to 10 days. Amazon and Waterstones at least are offering next day delivery.

    It seems like a vicious circle for retails covering overheads and fighting online giants, one that I think ultimately they will find puts them out of business. Just for the record, my local bookshop has now closed its doors citing Amazon as the main reason for their demise.

    Chris Brown

    1. That’s such a shame about your local bookshop. But I understand. Sometimes as an author, I feel somewhat conflicted with Amazon. I publish with KDP and use them for physical copies too, but really feel the urge to try and support bookshops.

      It’s all a learning curve, isn’t it? My recent signing will see me get 25% royalties.

  2. Sadly a lot of books published by small publishers simply aren’t stocked by bookshops, however large that shop may be. As for indie authors, bookshops seem to regard them as inferior beings not even worthy of being called authors, so if people don’t use the likes of Amazon they will be missing out on a wealth of excellent new authors, bypassed by the mainstream publishers for having the temerity to be unknown. I hate to see bookshops struggling to stay in business, but even more I hate the idea of missing out on reading work by indie writers, a lot of whom now rank among my favourite authors.

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