Category: Booksellers


The business of books: Only connect

At the launch of BookMachine’s Snapshots III I kicked off the talks by raining hard on the book industry parade. (Sorry.)

While I was on holiday in Dorset last week I wandered into a charity shop in a pretty market town and remarked on the number of books they had crammed onto their shelves. The woman behind the counter said wearily: ‘We’re not taking any more books. Everybody’s getting rid of them and nobody wants them.’

She didn’t know I was a book person. She had no idea she’d just delivered a punch to my gut. It’s not the sort of thing people in my world, and my social media bubble, tend to say. But it is of course true, or at least there’s truth in it.

As publishers, we spend our time with people who love and appreciate books. This is NOT THE REAL WORLD. For many people in this country books are an outdated technology. An irrelevance.

The Reading Agency reported last year that:

  • 44% of of young people aged 16-24 don’t read at all for pleasure (for older adults, that figure is 36%)
  • Only 26% of 10-year-olds say they like reading

And for an industry that makes its money from the sale of books it’s a perfect storm because, as fewer people want to buy books, more books are being published than ever before at lower prices than ever before.

So what’s the answer? Well, there’s no one answer. There never is. But we can find AN answer, I believe, in the creating of connection.

We already know that for many readers a book is interesting only when it’s connected to something else, something beyond the book, that has meaning for them. If they love Bake-Off, they’ll buy the book. If they’re a devoted fan of the YouTuber of the moment they’ll queue up for a signed copy, if they’re at an event with a great speaker, they’ll buy the book at the back of the room, if they’re in a book club they’ll buy the book they’re discussing: they need a reason, they need a connection.

When we write and publish today, we’re engaging in a battle for attention that’s more sophisticated and segmented than ever before. The people who really get this are the platform builders like Pat Flynn, Seth Godin, Jeff Goins, Joanna Penn, Hugh Howey, Denise Duffield-Thomas – and many of these are indie authors because they want control and they can reach their people directly. They have podcasts, blogs, YouTube channels, businesses: they have fans and/or customers instead of a sales force, and their book reaches new readers who become new fans and/or customers. It’s the attention they’re monetising – for many of them the revenues from the book itself are just a side benefit.

When rapper Akala spoke at Futurebook last year, revealing that his self-published books outsell CDs at his gigs, he asked ‘Why would I need a publisher? I have my own customer base.’

The good news is that books have an irreplaceable role in this new online/offline economy of connection and attention, but we have reached a tipping point: readers need a reason to read them. They need meaningful context. And the most powerful reason is always human connection – directly with the author, or with other people who’ve read and loved the book. Which means that publishers need to find ways to support authors to find their tribe and build their platform.

If we don’t respond to that challenge, if we don’t recognise that we’re in the business of making people care and connecting them, we’re simply adding to an undifferentiated pile of books that nobody has a reason to read. We also risk being left with a world in which only celebrities or business-savvy authorpreneurs can succeed in the book market.

Publishers have traditionally thought of themselves as gatekeepers, but once the walls have come down it’s a bit pointless continuing to stand beside the gate. And, even worse, if you insist on standing there you’re going to miss the party that’s going on inside.

Maybe a better metaphor for our future is as table hosts. Publishers don’t own the venue any more, it’s not even our party, but we CAN host part of it: we can lead the conversation in our area, give a voice and a platform to people with something interesting to say, we can make ours the table everyone wants to come to, where the best conversations happen and the most interesting connections are made. We can be where the party is.

And that’s much more fun than guarding the gate, right?

future of the bookAlison Jones (@bookstothesky) is a publishing partner for businesses and organizations writing world-changing books. She also provides executive coaching, consultancy and training services to publishers. 


What makes a bestseller?

Jonny Geller is a literary agent and joint CEO of Curtis Brown. Here he follows up with some thoughts following a recent Tedx talk he gave, ‘What Makes a Bestseller?’.

Print sales are up. Independent publishers are scooping major literary prizes on a regular basis. Attendance figures to The London Book Fair are up. The Creative Industries are worth a staggering £84billion and publishing takes a proud £10bn of it.

What’s not to like?

Except, we are in danger of throwing much of it away.

I recently gave a Tedx talk at Tedx Oxford on “What Makes a Bestseller?” – take a look if you have spare 15 minutes. I talked about the mysterious combination of factors that conspire to hit the zeitgeist and make books pop and hit the mainstream, but it did make me think about how literary agents are in danger of becoming risk averse. The funnel to publication seems to be getting ever narrower.

What I didn’t say in my talk was how publishing can sometimes get in the way of books. We all say we look for new, exciting voices that will enlighten and inspire a new generation of readers and yet we find ourselves all racing for the middle, veering towards the same vanilla, reading group friendly fiction.


The agent blames the publishers for excessive caution. The publishers blame the booksellers for second guessing what they think their customers want. The reviewers – well they just keep getting sacked.

Let’s face it. If the publishing industry closed tomorrow and did not produce another new book for a whole year, there would still be too many books for us to buy, read or sell.

Publishing is breathing its own ecosystem of books that publishers and agents want to see and read, but are we forgetting about the reader? Are we supplying books readers want to read?

Last year, when I read The Martian and saw Dr Foster on BBC, I began to worry about this issue. I enjoyed both, but guiltily. I had a creeping unease that had either project come into my office, I would have asked for edits to “clean them up” a bit. And I would have probably ruined both. People were talking about Doctor Foster at the water cooler because of its uneven and contradictory moments. But that is exactly what made this familiar story of adultery, different. Would we have edited out the very thing that made these stories stand out? Sometimes, books come to the reader directly from self-publishing because we in publishing do not think they work to our criteria.

Editorial taste is, rightly, a highly prized commodity in publishing – the battle between sales/marketing versus editorial vision is often talked about. What we in the publishing industry need to think about is: why we are so reactive? Are we listening to what readers want – originality, difference, dare I say, diverse voices? The bigger the publishers get, the more likely decisions become “corporate” and “strategic”.

The only “strategy” a publisher needs is to publish good books better.

The rise of the self-publishing phenomenon has resulted in, counter-intuitively, caution. The thinking is, I suppose, that these books will come to the big publishers eventually. Publishing is about sticking your neck out and daring people to buy the book you invested in.

Of course we all want dead certs based on what has sold before, but if we are not selling original material that only could have come from this country at this moment of time, and all agree to give it a chance, we won’t have much of an industry to boast about in years to come.

How crowdfunding is changing publishing: Mathew Clayton interview

Mathew Clayton is as an editor, events organiser and writer. Currently, he works as the Head of Publishing at the innovative crowdfunding publisher Unbound and runs a literary tent at Glastonbury Festival. Here Sarah Ann Juckes, co-host of the free BookMachine Brighton event (How crowdfunding is changing publishing, 8th June). interviews him.

1) You’ve had a varied career in literature as an editor, festival programmer and publisher at Unbound. What drew you to working with books initially?

When I left college, I set up a second hand bookstall. Every Saturday I went round jumble sales and bought all the half decent books I could find, then I sold them to students at Sussex University. I really enjoyed doing this, but I wanted to move to London, and managed to get a job working for the Guardian in their PR department. My boss was also involved in the Guardian’s book publishing – they had an imprint with Fourth Estate and I started helping her with that. Fourth Estate were then a small, exciting and fast growing independent publisher. I was hooked.

2) Has any of these roles changed your view of the industry and/or books?

Festivals are really interesting, as they are part of a new emerging literary culture that includes book groups, creative writing courses, independent bookshops and crowdfunding. None of these thriving sectors have emerged from within the traditional industry, they have all been developed independently by writers and readers.

And everyone involved in publishing should, at some point, sell books. You gain a real understanding of how difficult it is to get people to try something new.

3) As Head of Publishing at Unbound, do you think there is a certain type of literature that lends itself particularly well to crowdfunding?

I think non-fiction is easier to fund than fiction and it really helps if you have an established network of people that are interested in your work. But underpinning that is the need to be the kind of person that wants to establish a network of people that are interested in your work, rather than simply hoping that someone else will do it for you.

4) What are the biggest mistakes you feel other publishers are making today?

Not building direct relationships with readers. In three years of programming literary events at the Brighton Festival, no publisher ever asked if it would be possible to get email addresses of the people that paid to see their authors. Publishers don’t own bookshops, they don’t run festivals, they don’t organise book clubs. I realise I am generalising here a little, but their whole way of operating is to sell via shops – they are used to keeping readers at a distance. This is very short-sighted.

5) What do you think the future holds for crowdfunding books?

At its heart, our model of publishing is selling books direct to readers in advance of publication. More and more people will do this – any new publisher that doesn’t try and do this is mad. I don’t think many traditional publishers will try crowdfunding, as they will not be able to culturally get their head around the idea that a book might fail before it is even published. From a personal perspective, I love commissioning books in this way – I have far more freedom than I ever had when working for Random House, Octopus or Michael O’Mara.

Grab your free ticket to hear more from Mathew at our Snapshots III book launch event here. BookMachine Brighton is hosted by Sarah Ann Juckes and Isheeta Mustafi.

We are also hosting events for the launch of Snapshots III in London and Oxford on the 8th June, and Cambridge on the 13th. Join us.

Startup snapshot: Freebooksy and Bargain Booksy

Ferol-Vernon-280x280 (1)Ferol Vernon is the COO of Written Word Media and has built technology for everyone from doctors and combat medics to musicians and now authors. Ferol’s focus is building deeply engaging technology for readers, and effective ad products for authors and publishers. Here we interviewed him on Freebooksy and Bargain Boosky, both part of the Written Word Media Family. 

1) What exactly are Freebooksy and Bargain Booksy?

Freebooksy and Bargain Booksy are book deal sites. Freebooksy features only free books has 213,000 registered readers and Bargain Booksy features books that are priced under $5, and has 160,000 registered readers. Readers save their genre preferences as well as reading device preferences so our daily newsletter is extremely targeted, and the books we feature sell lots of copies.

2) What problem do they solve?

Two problems really. Readers are always looking for their next great book, but not everyone wants to pay full price, so we offer book deal alerts to readers. We help them find a great book, in the genre they want, for a price that can’t be beat. The second problem we solve is for authors, who are always looking for a place to promote their book. Our advertising products are very effective, and extremely affordable. Authors who promote with us see tangible results, and they keep coming back.

3) What do they offer for publishers?

The service we offer to publishers is the same service we offer to authors. Our advertising works so well, some of the biggest publishers on earth use us. We strive to make sure the same promo tools that work for major publishing houses, are available to indie authors as well.

4) What has been your greatest success?

We’re really most proud of our reputation among the author community. We genuinely care about our authors, and it shows in how we run our business. We know authors want great customer service, so we make it a priority. There’s real people here answering emails every day, and customer service is the first thing we talk about in our weekly staff meeting.

5) What challenges do you face?

Big goals are always challenging and at Written Word Media we have big goals. We want to provide the world’s best  promotional services for authors and that means constantly finding new audiences of readers. Our strategy is to build brands that cater to specific reader types, we’ve branched out from just Freebooksy and Bargain Booksy, and launched two new sites. NewInBooks is all about the latest, hottest books, and more in-depth content about books. Red Feather Romance is a romance-specific site. Both of those sites were built to offer a new type of reader to our authors. Continuing to create new brands to attract new readers is challenging, but we’re up to the task.

6) What will be next for Written Word Media?

Like I mentioned we’re highly focused on finding readers and building great ad products for authors. That strategy has served us well and we’re not abandoning it, look for continued expansion form us in in the coming months!



The business of books: social selling

At the London Book Fair’s Quantum conference last month I listened to Aissetou Ngom talk about Penguin Platform, the young adult brand which she manages. She revealed that market research on the design of the new website had produced something of a surprise: there shouldn’t be a ‘website’ in the traditional sense at all. ‘That feels kind of old-fashioned,’ was the general response from the teens they talked to. So Penguin Platform inhabits the social web: Tumblr is its main home, with offshoots on YouTube, Twitter and Instagram. (And if you’re a publisher and you’ve been congratulating yourself on finally getting your website sorted, I’m sorry.)

Might online bookstores one day become equally passé? The social web is where we share ideas and consume content, and increasingly it’s where we purchase, too.

In the Extraordinary Business Book Club podcast this week I talk to Marcus Woodburn, Vice President Digital Products at Ingram Content Group, about, their new social selling tool (Ingram was an early investor in Aerbook, which became, and acquired the start-up at the end of 2015). I am hugely excited about this, and I don’t think most publishers have quite realized how it could revolutionize the book supply chain. makes any touchpoint on the web a sales opportunity. An author can embed a buy button in a tweet, for example. Yes, we’ve had Amazon ‘buy now’ widgets for years, but an Amazon widget sends your customer straight to Amazon.’s button keeps the ownership of the transaction with you, which means you get your customer’s data. Which means if you’re smart you can sell more stuff to them in future. This is game-changing.

Publishers large and small are queuing up for this (it’s live in the US but delayed in the UK and Europe owing to our Byzantine tax and data protection laws – Marcus promises it should be live here by the middle of the year), as are independent authors and retailers. Authors I understand, I say, but retailers? Sure they must hate this? No, says Marcus: they see an opportunity to carry vastly more inventory than they can stack on their shelves, and to sell ebooks, which has always been problematic.

That makes sense: when I was building a direct-to-consumer model in traditional publishing years ago, ebook fulfilment was a huge problem: for most publishers it was easier simply to point customers in the direction of Amazon or other ebook retailers to deal with the nitty gritty of different formats, different devices, DRM and technical support. But with Ingram’s massive ebook and print infrastructure behind it, can deliver print and any ebook format in the same basket. Nice. Basically if a book is in the Lightning Source print-on-demand catalogue (which includes IngramSpark for indies), it’s deliverable via

The possibilities are infinite – you can create a custom button for a channel (a promotional link from a speaker biography page, or an email to course participants) to deliver a bespoke version of a book. You can also customize how much of the book is included in the preview, so if your aim is visibility rather than revenue, you can be generous in what’s discoverable and viewable before purchase.

I should make it clear I have no financial interest here, and I’m not acting as an affiliate. I’m just genuinely excited about a technology that can help readers discover and buy books more easily, and which creates a more interesting and diverse book retail ecosystem.

As Marcus says: ‘Every time we sit down with a publisher they have a different way they’re thinking of using it.’

I’ve got some ideas of my own, and I can’t wait to try them out.

Alison Jones (@bookstothesky) is a publishing partner for businesses and organizations writing world-changing books. She also provides executive coaching, consultancy and training services to publishers. 

2017 in review

All the facts and stats from the UK Children’s Summit

For the first time this year, Nielsen Book held a UK Children’s Summit at London Book Fair, covering the incredible growth we’ve seen in Children’s sales worldwide over the past two years, and will hopefully continue to see. As someone who spends a lot of time thinking and talking about book sales data, I couldn’t pick a better subject to present on right now than the children’s market.

Since my first foray to the LBF in 2013, the children’s market has taken a turn for the better – after steadily declining from 2009 to 2013, revenue grew 9.5% in 2014, even as adult fiction and non-fiction continued to decline. Sales in 2015 improved even further, up 5.3% to £309m, marking last year as the highest year for Children’s since BookScan records began. And it wasn’t just one category, or one author, or one publisher. The three largest categories (Children’s Fiction, Picture Books and Novelty & Activity Books) all saw growth, as did the majority of top publishers. Even more impressive, 2016 sales to the end of March are already up 7.4% compared to the first three months of 2015, pointing toward 2016 being another excellent year.

The strength of Children’s Fiction in particular continues to amaze me – value sales grew 11.3% in 2015, and so far in 2016 the category has gone up another 10% in quarter one, topping £20m. Last year, 14 of the top 20 authors were in growth, with the top 20 taking about half of fiction sales. It’s a combination of new and old driving this – David Walliams’ latest Grandpa’s Great Escape was the highest selling children’s title for the last five years, but then we also see J.K. Rowling moving back up the ranks. The new illustrated Harry Potter contributed to her moving from the eighth largest children’s fiction author in 2014 to the third in 2015, and in the first few months of 2016, she’s moved into first.

Contrary to the other large categories, Young Adult Fiction saw a bit of a decline in 2015 (down 5.3%), but there were still some positives – half of the top twenty authors showed increased sales, including Zoe Sugg in first and Terry Pratchett in second. Actually, the top ten YA titles made more money in 2015 than in 2014 (£7.9m vs £7.0m), with 25% of revenue coming from those top ten, led by Girl Online 2: On Tour. We also saw value growth beyond the top 100 titles, and more debut authors earning over £100k than in the previous year, pointing to plenty of future potential in the YA sector.

It’s not just the UK that’s seeing extensive growth in Children’s – of the ten countries we measure through BookScan, only Australia was in decline in 2015, after a really strong 2014. Interestingly, when you look at the breakdown of the market in each country, Australia has the largest share taken by Children’s, at 44% of volume sales, closely followed by New Zealand at 42%. In the UK, Children’s takes about 34% of volume sales and 24% of value, which has grown from only 15% back in 2001, and only 21% as recently as 2012, all pointing to the continuing strength of print in the Children’s market.

Jaclyn Swope is a Publisher Account Manager on the Book Research team at Nielsen BookScan, where she assists a variety of publishers with understanding and utilising both retail sales and consumer data, through training sessions, presentations and bespoke analysis of book industry trends.

10 things we learned about omnichannel selling at #Quantum16

Matthew Walsh (Retail Membership Manager, IMRG), Kieron Smith (Digital Director, Blackwells) and Matt Haslum (Consumer Marketing Director, Faber and Faber) formed the panel discussing omnichannel selling at the Quantum conference on Monday. Here are our top 10 takeaway points from the talk.

How consumers spend

1) 27% of retail spending goes online.

2) Tracking a single customer’s path to purchase is the holy grail. E.g. being able to track when they browse on their phone or tablet and then make a purchase in store, or vice versa.

3) 32% of online sales are coming from smart phones and 19% from tablets, and sales from tablets are increasing. Beacons in stores register your smart phone, know what you’ve previously searched for, and send you a voucher based on that search when you walk into the shop. Though, this is not something booksellers are currently adopting for their customers.


4) Each channel has its own strengths and weaknesses, and different customers need different experiences. Better customer service is available in store, but it’s easier to search for products and there are more options online.

5) Because of complex supply chain, the challenge for booksellers is delivery. All channels are currently too slow to meet customer demands.

6) Email is a vital channel for online retailers, accounting for 12% of the revenue. This has doubled over the last four years (from 6% in 2011), which is largely down to smartphones. But effective campaigns rely on having amassed are large number of subscribers from which you can segment and target appropriately.

Social Media

7) Social media contributes less than 1% (0.3%) of a retailer’s revenue. It should be viewed as an additional marketing method, not a revenue stream. Social media is the modern day equivalent of a shop window: just because the consumer may not buy immediately, it doesn’t mean that they won’t return or buy the product elsewhere.

8) Consumers use social media to raise problems and ask questions – it’s a customer service channel and should be viewed as an extension of the bookselling service.

9)Think about your market and the channels they use. For example, students don’t tend to use email anymore and are instead on  Yik Yak, Facebook and WhatsApp.

10) These channels are constantly shifting and you need to be there to reach them. Pinterest is soon to have transaction facilities and Instagram is an increasingly important tool for retailers. While direct revenue is currently minimal, social media is likely to become an effective last click tool.

Self-employed in publishing

It’s Not You, It’s Me: Is it time to divorce the returns system?

Publishing is an unusual industry in many ways, yet perhaps the most bizarre of its kinks is the returns system. Under this system, provided certain criteria are met, booksellers of all kinds are able to return unsold books back to their original publisher. The publisher then has to refund their value and either house the overstock or pulp it.

But has the system become more damaging than it is profitable? And where, when no other industry conducts this practice, did it originate?

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The next 5 years of publishing: jetpacks and hoverboards [OPINION]

In the run up to Publishing: the next 5 years, BookMachine will be featuring a number of opinions about what might be next for the industry. This is a guest blog from Lottie Chase. Lottie is the Sales Manager of Legend Press, a publisher passionate about championing new and high-profile authors and ensuring the book remains a product of beauty, enjoyment and fulfilment. She was the Chair of the Society of Young Publishers and has previously worked in export sales at both Walker Books and Quercus.

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Amazon and publishing

5 Questions for Deborah Emin about Amazon and publishing

This is a guest interview with Deborah Emin. Deborah began Sullivan Street Press as a way to change the publishing paradigm. An advocate also for how we relate to this planet, the press publishes titles on veganism, animal rights as well as on the occupy movement. Follow @SullivanStPress.

1. If we could turn back time, how could the Amazon/publishing relationship have been established differently?

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Spanish start-up interview: SeeBook

SeeBook is a new publishing start-up that enables e-books to be sold in brick-and-mortar stores, given away as gifts or signed by the author. Rosa Sala co-founded the company after years of experiencing challenges within the publishing industry.

SeeBook are kindly sponsoring BookMachine Barcelona on Thursday. Maria Cardona interviewed Rosa to find out more.

Maria: What is SeeBook? Where did the idea come from, and what exactly do you offer?

Rosa: In a nutshell: SeeBooks are physical cards which allow you to download ebooks in multiple formats. They are sold in bookshops.

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Blackwell's Holborn

5 Questions (and a free coffee) with Blackwell’s Holborn

Steve Orchard is the shop manager of the new Blackwell’s in Holborn which opened its doors on 19th December. Having seen the interesting range of books, sampled the cafe and witnessed the efficiency, of the all important wi-Fi, we were delighted to be invited in to find out more.

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Could Bookish Be The Next Big Online Retailer?

Last week saw the launch of Bookish in the US – a new, and frankly bloody stunning book discovery/online retailer (or as I call them, a ‘social retailer’). They’ve got a brilliant pitch, a stunning site, and features the rest of us have been discussing for a while that we thought may never come to fruition. Yeah, you know what I’m talking about. The golden egg, the holy grail, of online book discovery. An algorithm that recommends you books. Not ‘readers also bought’. Not ‘you might also like’. Something that says ‘what’s a book you have read and loved lately?’ and then picks you a bunch more based on what I can only assume is metadata more detailed than a fractal zoom on a mandelbrot set.

I hope you all brought spare underwear.

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Lower Ebook Prices Does Not Equal More Readers

Last week saw the declaration by Amazon that the dissolution of agency pricing in the US was a “big win for customer” and that they look forward to lowering prices on more ebooks in the future. It’s slightly surreal for me to read that lower ebook prices is something anyone would ‘look forward’ to, given how much effort publishers are making (not across the board, but certainly in some places) to ensure the price of ebooks stays at a level that encourages a sense of worth for the format. Testament to Amazon’s place in the market, however, the news was not received badly.

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Sainsobii vs Wamazon: Battle of the Bookseller Titans

Sainsbury's vs Amazon: The Battle of the Bookselling TitansLast week, a new alliance between supermarket Sainsbury’s and social reading site aNobii rocked the publishing world. As I’ve said before, aNobii have been ramping up their online presence of late and it seems to have paid off with this deal, sparking some discussion as to whether this was Sainsbury’s well and truly making their move into eBook retailing.  But can they realistically take on the giants of the book selling industry? In a fight between young-gun Sainsobii and godly Wamazon*, who would win?

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