Bookseller Briefing 37/18 – week ending 14 September

The Bookseller

Dutchman wins Welsh bookshop in raffle draw

Dutchman Ceisjan Van Heerden has won a bookshop in Cardigan, west Wales, in a raffle draw, according to the BBC.

Paul Morris (pictured with Van Heerden), who set up the shop as Bookends in 2014 to sell second-hand titles, raffled off the shop and its contents because he is taking early retirement. Over a period of three months, tickets were given to any customer who spent £20 in the shop. The winning ticket was then pulled out of a hat on 1st September.

“I didn’t want to sell the shop and then see a chain take it over – I wanted it to stay a bookshop but give someone different a go,” said Morris, who is retiring due to osteoarthritis. “I figured a raffle would be good, because no-one loses. Even if they did not get the shop, they still have some great books to read.”

Van Heerden, who is giving up his job in customer service to relocate to Cardigan, said he was “shocked” when he heard he had won. “It’s surreal. I had a coffee and a sit down to take it all in.”

The formal handover will take place on 5th November.

Waterstones pushes publishers for better trading terms

Smaller and mid-size publishers are facing a squeeze on terms with Waterstones, with the bookseller pushing for them to trade on similar terms to the big houses, The Bookseller has learned.

Increased discounts were given to Waterstones by all of the major publishers shortly after m.d. James Daunt first took over at the chain.

News of the latest development comes just days after the retailer acquired the 115-year-old indie chain Foyles. Once the sale is completed by the end of the year, publishers’ trading terms for Foyles will also be mediated via Waterstones, meaning that around £27m of business is likely to be agreed on different, “aligned” terms, as happened when Waterstones acquired Ottakar’s. This makes Waterstones’ push on terms even more unpopular with publishers.

“Usually on terms there is give and take—if you give us this, we’ll give that—but this is take it or leave it, with nothing in return,” one publisher, who preferred to speak anonymously, said. “It is basically pushing everybody up to the [terms] status of the conglomerates. Now every man and his dog is at the same eye-watering level.”

The publisher declined to give numbers, but said: “What I’m hearing is that the new owners are taking a much closer interest in the finance of the business and doing what venture capitalists do, seeing an opportunity to squeeze.”

But another senior publisher said that a broader view was needed, to see the opportunities of the Foyles sale, and that focusing on terms was a distraction. “It is better to take a macro view and see it as a long piece of history – this is a more intelligent analysis rather than indie publishers talking about terms,” the publisher argued.

Daunt confirmed to The Bookseller that new terms arrangements were being negotiated with the mid-tier publishers that want to compete in-store with the corporate publishers. “It is for those publishers that want to be front of store within Waterstones. For our book buyers it is a situation where you can either choose to sell a book where we make more money, or a book where you make less,” he said. “But it has to be a two-way street. We have to deliver, which we generally have done for the bigger publishers, or in a couple of years’ time the conversations will very different.”

Separately, there have also been concerns voiced by some who spoke to The Bookseller that the sale of Foyles could erode the bookseller’s distinctive buying, leading to a centralised buying system between the two stores.

One publisher, who wished to remain anonymous, said “I do have some concerns about the personality of Foyles getting lost in the Waterstones system. It does things differently, and gives breathing space to smaller publishers in a way that is less apparent with Waterstones… I also worry about it retaining long-lead visibility of titles so that it can plan well in advance with publishers. It would be a real shame if it fell under the Waterstones buying system, where stores and booksellers only know what they are getting around four weeks ahead of publishing.”

Granta commissioning editor Anne Meadows echoed this fear of buying power trickling from Foyles. “What Foyles is so brilliant at is more eclectic book-buying, particularly literary and experimental titles,” she said. “I hope there won’t be a more centralised buying system.”

However Daunt reassured those who were worried about attempts to “Waterstonesify” the Foyles brand.

“There absolutely won’t be a more centralised buying system. We don’t want to turn Foyles into branches of Waterstones, that is 100% not happening.

“I can’t see any way that we would want to change it… I do think that machines don’t lie and if machines say that Foyles has a return rate of 35% then they are buying too much but I don’t see that, it seems to me a lean, clean, sensible ship.

“I am interested in how the Foyles buying system works. It seems to me to be a very similar system to Daunt Books. We will keep Foyles as Foyles. We won’t Waterstonesify it. I am looking forward to having another independent voice and spirit in Waterstones.”

The sale of Foyles led to a mixed reaction within the trade, with many expressing shock, and came five months after the sale of Waterstones to investment firm Elliot Advisors.