Category: Sales

How do you know that your rights are alright: interview with Clare Painter

In the run up to next week’s event: How do you know that your rights are alright?, we interviewed Clare Painter, one of our expert panellists – to find out more about how publishers can manage their rights more effectively. Clare is a licensing agent and digital rights consultant, helping publishers and other users of digital content to grapple with practical and commercial rights issues.

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Behind the scenes at Blackwell’s: What publishers can learn from a bookselling icon

Last week I was lucky enough to receive a VIP behind-the-scenes tour of Blackwell’s flagship store in Broad Street, Oxford. The point of the exercise, led by Kate Stilborn, Blackwell’s Customer Service and Operations Director, is to build stronger connections with publishers, in order for all of us to work better together. And sell more books, of course.

I expected a whistle-stop tour, but in fact I was greeted with a full day’s programme, prepared by the shop’s Customer Service Manager, Nicky James, which included meetings with lots of different staff members, and the opportunity to get to grips – literally – with the books themselves. By the time the day ended – with an unexpected fire alarm and al fresco goodbyes – I had aching feet and an even greater appreciation for the dedication and passion of our bookselling colleagues.

So here’s a snapshot of my day at Blackwell’s, plus some – ah – snapshots. (Sorry.)

It’s all about customer experience

The first stage on my tour was the Gaffer’s Office, furnished just as it was in Basil Blackwell’s day, and now used as a reminder of former times and as a green room for visiting speakers. But this step back in time is no indicator of the company’s direction of travel. They’re currently in the midst of a Revolution in Customer Service, and they’re in the process of transition to an employee partnership model similar to John Lewis’s.

In an age when online shopping is so easy, Nicky James explained that Blackwell’s is aiming to provide a wonderful customer experience every single time. They have a programme of ‘mystery shops’, leading to feedback on how customers are treated, with an emphasis on learning rather than blame. I love the fact that there’s a box to tick on the mystery shopping questionnaire for ‘moments of delight’ – that moment when a bookseller goes above and beyond the shopper’s expectations.
The theme of autonomy came up again and again during my time at Blackwell’s. In a booklet containing 10 Great Ideas for Giving Outstanding Customer Service, Toby Blackwell gives staff freedom to bend or break the usual rules in pursuit of excellent service – an approach I find outstanding.

A community of booksellers

After meeting several booksellers from different departments (quite a few of them called James), I found myself in the breathtakingly book-filled Norrington Room, in the care of David Kelly, the store’s Sales Manager. I know this room well from my earlier life in Oxford, but I didn’t know until now that it covers come 10,000 square feet and contains an outrageous three and a half miles of bookshelves.

David also revealed another fact that surprised me, when he told me that the booksellers for each department make their own decisions about what to stock, meeting reps personally and negotiating terms specifically for their lists. My experience of the bookselling world from the publishing side of the net has been one of increasing centralisation and lack of empowerment at the individual shop level, so this was a true surprise for me. Each bookseller organises the displays in  their area of the shop with care and attention, and they invite visiting speakers and academics from the university to curate thematic collections – as you can see on the tables in the picture below.

Yes, David agreed when I questioned him on this, it would be more efficient to negotiate with publishers centrally – but the benefits of empowering staff to make their own decisions about which titles to promote and how to promote them cannot be underestimated.

How can we, as publishers, make David’s work easier, I asked. His answer, without hesitation, was that we should stop jumping on bandwagons such as colouring books and children’s book parodies. In his view, it ‘saturates the market and makes books less special’ – it’s like copying another bookshop’s window display: unimaginative and backward-looking. New ideas, please!

Don’t ignore your backlist

I emerged from the bowels of the building into the bright light of the ground floor, the home of fiction from 1960 onwards. I met James Orton, a star of the bookselling team whose love of books positively radiates from him, and I saw just how much freedom the staff have to curate collections of titles, enabling them to share their passions and participate in topical cultural moments.

Eye-catching shelf displays present customers with hand-picked selections of the booksellers’ current favourites – and what really struck me was that booksellers (just like normal booklovers) get just as excited about books published last year, or fifty years ago, as they do about the latest new releases.
I pulled my weight for a short while and earned the right to wear my Bookseller badge by filling a table with books for James’s Dirty Realism display. This is the point where I learned that there are books everywhere in the shop, stacked under tables in orderly piles, and that booksellers are black belts in the art of carrying armfuls of books without bumping into anyone or falling over – fates I narrowly avoided.

Communication is always good – and advance notice is even better

After working with Maria, Lorna and Jade in the first floor Literature department, my day ended with a chat over coffee in the café with Beth from Events and Aleida from Sales Development. Blackwell’s run a programme of successful book-related events throughout the year, and they also provide bookshop services for many of the academic conferences that take place in Oxford.

Beth loves hearing from publicists, and it’s a useful reminder to us publishers that we have to stay alert for every promotional opportunity. There are more organisations than we may realise who are keen to meet our authors, and whose audiences are ready to buy their books. If they don’t come knocking on our doors, it’s up to us to make the introductions.

Aleida explained that proof copies are invaluable in building up staff enthusiasm for forthcoming titles – you’ve probably got the message already that the team at Blackwell’s are mad about books, and Aleida told me all the staff read the proofs the shops receives. So it’s worth splashing out on some digital copies of your forthcoming titles if you can find room in your budgets.

What would they like from us, as publishers? Beth and Aleida gave me their wishlist:

  • Always time your book events after publication and not before.
  • Make the returns process easy and transparent – dealing with boxes of unsold titles after a festival takes up time that could be spent planning your next big event, so it helps everyone if we can make this as painless as possible.
  • When schedules go awry and stock dates slip, it really helps when publishers are willing to pull out all the stops to get books to an event. Bringing a flexible and positive approach to the inevitable moments of crisis helps us connect readers to books, and makes good business sense for all of us.

Speaking of moments of crisis, our meeting was interrupted at this point by a fire alarm, and I joined book browsers and booksellers in the sunshine on Broad Street for a last chat and goodbye before heading home.

Meeting the staff and seeing behind the scene of one of my all-time favourite bookstores was a treat that I will treasure – and I hope the experiences I’ve shared here have helped to shed a little light on the mysterious world of bookselling that exists between us publishers and those even more mysterious people: the readers.

Many thanks to Kate Stilborn for inviting me, Nicky James for planning the day, plus David, James, Miguel, Maria, Lorna, Jade, Beth and Aleida for sharing their knowledge and enthusiasm!

Abbie Headon has worked in editorial and digital roles at Summersdale Publishers and Oxford University Press, and is now working for a range of publishing clients as Abbie Headon Publishing Services. She’s available for all kinds of publishing projects and spends too much time on Twitter at @abbieheadon.

BookGig: The ‘publisher agnostic’ initiative launched by HarperCollins

A new initiative hit the book world this week: BookGig, ‘all the events from the authors you love’.

What’s interesting about that?

Well, it’s one of the few initiatives launched by a publisher (HarperCollins) that isn’t narrowly focused on that publisher’s own lists. ‘Publisher agnostic’, they’re calling it. Which is exactly what readers are, of course. HarperCollins have recognised that to do anything worthwhile they need scale, and to get scale they need comprehensive coverage. (Their reward, apart from the kudos and the opportunity to promote their own events and authors, is of course the contact details of hundreds or thousands of book lovers aka potential future customers.)

It’s also interesting because of the way it zooms in on a key point of differentiation – in a book ecosystem dominated by Amazon’s sheer scale, author events are a blue ocean of opportunity. (BookMachine fans know the value of a good event better than most, of course.) They’re also a win-win-win scenario: for the author, the opportunity to convert readers into raving fans; for publishers and booksellers, the opportunity to sell significant quantities of books; for readers, an experience that gives depth and texture to the book itself.

I’m fascinated by the range of events already featured – not just your traditional author readings and book launches, but book clubs, business breakfasts, workshops, even a walk. The possibilities are infinite: masterclasses, demonstrations, debates, all-night readings, fan fiction competitions, maybe a sneak preview of a new book with the opportunity to contribute or collaborate?

This for me is the most exciting space for publishing in the digital age – brokering not just a transaction but a relationship between author and reader.

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.

Irish book sales up by 20% as feel-good factor returns to publishing

The book trade in Ireland is booming with sales up by more than 20 per cent to date this year. Here are some of the highlights from The Irish Times’ article.

The Stats

  • Sales up to September 10th were €76.4 million, up 20.3 per cent on 2015, according to Nielsen Bookscan
  • The largest growth has been recorded in non-fiction (up 24.5 per cent to €31.4 million) and in children’s (up 24.4 per cent to €26.7 million) book sales
  • Fiction is up 8.4 per cent with sales of €18.1 million
  • The bestseller of the year has been Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (selling 56,300 copies to date).

Attributing Factors

  • The improving economy meant more disposable income and discretionary spending
  • The decline in the value of sterling has meant books are also cheaper in Ireland
  • The publication of a number of big titles most notably the new Harry Potter book.

10 tips for bookselling from the shop floor

chickenandfrod30ar03ap01zk-hayes3a_mdmChicken and Frog Bookshop is the only independent children’s bookshop in Essex. The family owned and run store opened its doors in October 2012.

We have been book lovers since our childhoods. If you want to be a successful bookseller, passion helps! Lots of it. Over the past four years, we have learnt a great deal about bookselling, so here’s our top tips:

1) Set out your stall

The environment you create is key. It needs to be engaging and easy to navigate. Use shelf talkers, make collections of books, keep your displays fresh.

2) Your window is your main advertising tool

We change ours weekly if possible. It needs to make people stop and look. If it stays the same, people don’t ‘see’ it anymore.

3) Know your store

This is two-fold. Ensure that all staff know where things are – having a change around only works if you can still find the books you’re looking for! And know the books. You can’t make a recommendation if you don’t know what you’re selling.

4) Be ruthless

If a title has been dust collecting for 3 months, it needs to go. That can be really tough, especially if it’s a firm favourite of yours. But, you are not the customer!

5) Know your customers

This is related to tip 4. You may love obscure Japanese poetry, but if your customers don’t, don’t stock it. This was a lesson that we learnt pretty quickly I can tell you.

6) Embrace authors and illustrators

If an author or illustrator wants to visit, welcome them with open arms. They are awesome. But, plan carefully. Be ready and let everyone know about the event.

7) Schools mean business

If you want to survive, you need strong relationships with schools. The reality is, schools have very fixed budgets, so you need to show them how important you are! Offer discounts (if you can), curriculum evenings, free stuff (posters, not books!) and, your time.

8) Connect with your community

Support your community and they will support you. We don’t mean by putting your hand in your pocket – booksellers don’t tend to be rich! But, you can offer storytelling, raffle prizes for good causes, put up a poster or share a Tweet. All of these actions help to foster a sense of community and they make you feel good too!

9) Social media

If you’re a bit of a technophobe, you need to get over it. Twitter and Facebook are effective tools for reaching out to people and getting your message across. The majority of our author links are due to being a little bit cheeky via Twitter.

10) Web presence

We can’t compete with the big boys on price, but we still need a web presence. If you take a look at our website, it’s not all singing, all dancing. We update recommendations, events page and the blog on a regular basis. Other pages are pretty static, but necessary and easy to navigate. Keep it simple.

Chicken and Frog Bookshop owners, Jim and Natasha Radford, harboured the notion of opening a bookshop for many years, before finally taking the plunge. Jim’s IT background, coupled with Natasha’s teaching career, plus a passion for getting children reading, means that the bookshop is full to the brim with a wide range of books and enthusiasm by the page full.

Frankfurt Book Fair: A survival guide

It’s that time of year again. The Frankfurt Book Fair is upon us in all its quirky and miraculous Germanic splendour. The largest international book fair in the world by number of publishers, Frankfurt is an event that you simply must attend at least once in your career, just to experience it.

With over 7,000 exhibitors from over 100 countries and almost 300,000 visitors over five days it can be quite overwhelming if you’re not prepared. For old bags like me there’s a Ground Hog Day feel to the moment I rock up each October at the main entrance to the buchmesse, as it’s known in German. The good news is, that as an old hand, I can hopefully pass on a few tips which should make your experience easier and more enjoyable.

First of all, you may by now have established that the Book Fair is HUGE. Located in a sprawling array of ‘functional’ buildings in a range of styles from Bauhaus to Postmodern, many the size of football pitches, with interlinking walkways and escalators, you will need (a) a map; (b) a very comfortable pair of shoes; (c) a bottle of water and (d) a good sense of direction. Organising your meetings with space in between to switch locations between halls is vital.

Second of all, only a small part of the business of the fair will take place in your meetings. Frankfurt is a BOOK fair, a bringing together of publishing folk, and therefore, it is FULL of chatter, gossip, inspiration and laughter and all of this is at least as important as the deals done on the stands. Walk the foreign halls, browse, bump into people, and more than anything, bring your best party self and prepare to burn the candle at both ends.

For Frankfurt Virgins a vital initiation experience is to end up at the Frankfurter Hof bar in the small hours. This is the place to see and be seen and you will always find interesting people there. Having said that, do try to get to bed before 4am. Three or so days without sleep or light doesn’t usually bring out the best in people (as a really old bag, my novel tip is to take at least one night off with room service, leaving the endless late nights to the youngsters. Ahem)

Based on one and two above, my third tip is to know the vital kit to pack for Frankfurt. This includes: Berocca (to ward off colds / soothe hangovers), a spare pair of tights (for the ladies), your entry pass (!), lip balm, phone charger, chewing gum (for post hangover meeting-friendly breath), cold remedies (you WILL catch something in those airless halls), throat sweets (your voice will be in constant use), hand cream (those airless halls are very dry) and snacks.

Speaking of food, I am sorry to say that the majority of fare available to you at the messe is, erm, not particularly enticing. So tuck into a good breakfast at your hotel and find a nice deli off site to pick up lunch on your way in.

Getting around Frankfurt itself is easier than it looks and your entry pass doubles as a freedom ticket to the excellent public transportation. Taxi queues outside the messe are notoriously long. Avoid them. Or embrace them and use them as an excellent networking opportunity. Likewise the queues for the loo.

Don’t forget there are outside spaces between the halls. Make some time in your schedule to get outside and see the sun. I think I’ve mentioned the airless halls….

Make copious notes. It will all be a blur when you return. Include something distinctive about each person you meet so you can refer to it when you write to follow up.

Above all, relax and have TONNES of fun. Look forward to seeing you there!

*My thanks to many Pan Mac pals who shared their best tips with me for this article: Belinda Rasmussen, Jeremy Trevathan, Michele Young, Robin Harvie, Harriet Sanders, Jon Mitchell, Eve Roberts and Sarah Harvey!

Sara Lloyd is Digital and Communications Director for Pan Macmillan, managing the company’s digital, marketing and publicity departments. Thanks to Norah Myers for sourcing this guest post.

Savvy business snapshot: Bookspeed

Bookspeed specialise in building the perfect range of books and gifts for retailers. Lewis Dawson is Commercial Director and is responsible for all buying and procurement operations, and overseeing the management of commercial activities across the business. He works closely with Bookspeed’s Sales Director, Fiona Stout, to expand the product portfolio enabling the company to forward into an exciting period of diversification and expansion.

1) Tell us a bit about Bookspeed

Bookspeed has been providing bespoke ranges of books for over three decades for a wide variety of retailers in the UK Gift and Heritage markets. Our customers range from stately homes to design led gift retailers. In recent years we have extended our range building service to include toys and gifts in with our book ranges.

2) What’s the gap in the market?

Buying books is hard. There are hundreds of publishers, producing thousands of books all year round. We use our expert knowledge of the book trade to create highly individual ranges that form a key part of our customers’ retail offer. As an independently owned business, without any allegiances to specific publishers or producers, we are the only genuinely impartial specialist wholesaler in the UK. This means our only incentive is to provide our customers with the best advice and suggestions to maximise their sales, and in turn ours.

3) What are your most popular collections at the moment and why?

There are two really strong collections at the moment in the Gift market, one is “Parody Humor” made popular by the phenomenally successful “Ladybird Books for Grown Ups” series. We sold over a quarter of a millions units of this series alone! This year we have more in the Ladybird series, but also parodies of the Famous Five books that we are expecting to do very well. Our other strong collection is, of course, Adult Colouring. This is a trend that has been popular for a couple of years but in 2015 it reached a crescendo. It is still a strong trend, but we are finding that consumers are looking for the more unusual or quirky colouring titles, rather than the big designer names like Joanna Basford and Millie Marotta. One of our most popular Adult colouring titles this year has been the “Passive Aggressive Colouring Book”

4) What are the benefits of selling books, toys and gifts together?

Our Account Managers, one of which every customer has dedicated to their account, all have a great eye for design and retail layout. Many have experience in retail themselves. These skills are used to build the ranges of books that we offer our customers, however there is no reason to limit the use of these skills only to ranges of books. Expanding our product portfolio allows our creative Account Managers to use their range building skills with more products, encouraging more cross merchandising and driving sales for our customers. We are careful to choose which partners we work with when bringing in new products on board, we want to make sure all new products we add into the business complement those we currently sell. We want suppliers to have a story to tell, not just a collection of products they want to flog!

5) And are there any drawbacks to this approach?

One thing we have found is that we are increasingly becoming a key supplier for many of our customers as their business with us grows. This means there is much greater scrutiny on our performance and the service that our customers receive. Ensuring that our high standards are maintained whilst growing quickly can be challenging, but we have an excellent team here and I’m confident we’ll continue to rise to the challenge.



Will Brexit destroy the publishing industry?

Will Brexit destroy the publishing industry?

Sarah Harvey is Senior Rights Manager at Pan Macmillan* where she sells translation rights around the world. She has previously worked in Rights at Hachette, Quercus, and HarperCollins. She is a big fan of Europe and will be accepting marriage proposals from anybody with an EU passport.

As the dust begins to settle in our brave new Brexity world, Sarah Harvey tells us that cultural exchange is more important than ever.

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Literary Agent [JOB POSTING]

The Darley Anderson Literary Agency is a top London based commercial fiction and non-fiction agency representing bestselling authors worldwide. We are looking for a dynamic women’s fiction Agent who has enormous passion for the genre and strong eye for readers’ tastes and wants. They will join a small elite team and be in charge of building the list and finding exciting future bestselling talent.

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Literary agent

7 things your agent wants you to know

Thérèse Coen is Rights Agent at Hardman & Swainson Literary Agency. She handles translation rights for the agency’s clients in all foreign language territories, and is building a boutique fiction and non-fiction list. Born and raised in Belgium, Thérèse is multilingual and studied at University College London. She previously worked for Ed Victor and at Bloomsbury Publishing. When not reading, she can be found circling Richmond Park on her bike plotting to win the first women’s Tour de France.

1) Bonnie & Clyde

Although agents are initially attracted to an author’s writing, we take on the book just as much as we take on the author him/herself. It might feel like the focus is all on the book itself in the first stages, but the relationship becomes much more about building the author. Editors and publishing houses will come and go more than agents will (in theory anyway), but we’ll be your partner-in-crime for the long haul. We’re all about focusing on our authors’ careers in the long term – finding the right editor with the right vision and ambition, the right publishing house with the right resources, who want to champion our author for the years to come – and often develop some lifelong friendships with authors along the line.

2) Ultimate multi-taskers

Going into this industry, I had no idea how multifaceted the jobs would be. Obviously, we spend a lot of time working with books and authors, but we also become agony aunts, cake-bakers, expert postage calculators, dog-walkers, office movers, printer-jam fixers and prosecco connoisseurs. A large part of our job consists of checking in with our authors, advising on edits, book covers, publicity and marketing campaign and events, and giving all manners of advice to our authors – including what dress to wear at publishing parties or how to build an Ikea bookshelf. We’re pretty kick-ass, really.

3) “Everything is subjective”

The publishing business is highly and at times frustratingly subjective. Every agent has at one point or other have fallen head over heels in love with a book which sadly not a single editor has picked up. Editors also will champion their favourite books, which will then for reasons unbeknownst not be loved by the public. Lots of ingredients are needed to make a bestseller, and agent enthusiasm right from the start is absolutely key. So when we tell you a book isn’t quite our thing but we hope someone else picks it up, we genuinely don’t think it’s a terrible book, we just think someone else will be a better spokesperson for it.

4) We are Human

We are nice people, promise! We sometimes get a little behind on our reading because we are sometimes drowning in manuscripts and emails, but we really care, and do our best at all times to get back to everyone with feedback and constructive criticism. We might look like a scary bunch, but we’re all pretty gooey in the middle – let’s face it, Jojo Moyes’s Me Before You makes us cry as much as any other reader!

5) Agencies – fat and skinny

Agencies come in all shapes and sizes, some are big and corporate with hundreds of years of cumulative experience, others are small with a more tailor-made approach to each author and their book. It’s worth doing your research before submitting, as some agencies’ style might suit you better than others, but it is worth remembering that ultimately what matters is finding an enthusiastic agent you “click” with and who is going to shout about your books from the rooftops and push the manuscripts into every single editor’s hands!

6) Hone those Blurbs

We often spent hours and hours looking through submission after submission, so to make sure you capture the agent’s attention with a fresh and exciting blurb, a neat layout, maybe some comparisons to other books and a few catchy shoutlines. You should talk firstly and mostly about the book, as that is what we, the editor, and ultimately the readers are going to be most interested in.

7) We are Hungry!

Not only do we consume an unnaturally large quantity of biscuits and cakes in the publishing industry, we are also always incredibly hungry for exciting new books and talent, and are always on the lookout for fresh manuscripts and original voices. We love our jobs, our books and most importantly, our authors. So keep sending us your submissions!

Translated literature: Is the buzz to be believed?

Jonathan Ruppin is Literary Director at digital start-up Orson & Co and the founder of the English PEN Translated Literature Book Club. He was a bookseller for 18 years, including 13 at Foyles’ flagship branch on Charing Cross Road.

Translated literature is having a moment, the press has being claiming of late. It’s being said by the sort of journalists who have previously claimed that short stories or novellas or enormous doorstop novels are having a moment.

The press, of course, is always keen to portray itself as a keen trendspotter and constantly makes assertions based on having received three vaguely similar books in the post lately or perhaps just one particularly cut-n’-pastable press release.

The facts are these

According to Literature Across Frontiers, translated fiction currently makes up 4.5% of UK sales, up from 3% at the turn of the century. This compares with almost a third in Germany and around half in Italy. Discount unrepeatable phenomena such as Elena Ferrante and Stieg Larsson and the increase is negligible.

If translated literature was really what everyone is buying, it would be reflected in what chain bookshops were putting in front and centre, in bestseller lists, in the pages of magazines as well as literary journals. And it’s not.

Translated literature, as the Twitterati smugly proclaim, is not a genre

To yoke books together on the grounds of their not being originally written in English is arbitrary and senseless.

Except… consider, for example, a novel set in ancient Rome and another in revolutionary France sitting side-by-side on a table of historical fiction: many readers adore exploring the past by reading fiction and plenty of them are interested in more than one era.

Similarly, readers travel the world vicariously through novels. An interest in Italy is unlikely to correlate with a passion for China but, in both cases, the reader is exhibiting curiosity about other cultures. A table of translated literature, therefore, makes perfect sense. Mostly importantly, it works: when I was at Foyles, we had one almost permanently, with an ever-changing selection, and it consistently outsold almost every other themed display.

It’s all very well dreaming of a world where readers are language-blind, but hoping that we’ll get there by leaving translated books to fend for themselves in the run from A to Z is wishful thinking. Positive discrimination is needed, just as we need to highlight female, working class and BAME writers, to avoid the cultural default of just waiting for the new one from Ian McEwan.

There are some major issues with exactly what does get translated into English

Safer choices by publishers lead to a preponderance of male writers. The lack of languages among British publishers means that Western Europe dominates. A lack of familiar cultural references in commercial fiction or British perspectives in non-fiction apparently makes anything other than English-language titles in these areas too problematic to consider. Credit for the translator is often buried somewhere discreet, as well as remaining largely absent from reviews. Random House even removed the diacritic from the name of Jo Nesbø lest such exoticism startle fragile crime fans (although Simon & Schuster have more faith in the child readers of his Doctor Proctor books and kept it).

We chose Senegal as the first destination in Africa for the English PEN Translated Literature Book Club, but were soon stymied: even names of global import such as Mariama Bâ, Ousmane Sembène and Fatou Diome are out of print in the UK. (Literature from any African nation can, incidentally, most often be identified by the hackneyed image of a sunset behind an acacia tree on the cover.)

The indies

We can only be grateful to the independent publishing sector, who have stepped in to cater for this vastly untapped market. Istros Books, for example, specialise in books from the Balkans. The main focus of Tilted Axis is books from Asia and Africa. And Other Stories and Peirene Press have achieved the sort of brand recognition that the big houses have long craved, signing up subscribers with a guarantee of literary intrepidity.

This is being mirrored by independent bookshops, who have capitalised on the millions of readers in search of something other than the cosily familiar. Globalisation of every aspect of life on Earth is happening now, whatever the Brexiteers may think of that, and Anglophone literature can only be enriched by embracing the remarkable variety the rest of the world has to offer.

Thanks to Norah Myers for sourcing this guest post. 

2017 in review

Where we read what: UK regions and their reading habits

While most popular books tend to have their sales spread throughout the country, I always find it interesting to look at how sales differ when moving from region to region in the UK – in BookScan we can separate sales into East of England, Lancashire, London, Midlands, Northern Ireland, Scotland, South West, Southern, Wales & the West and Yorkshire. This year, Joe Wicks’ Lean in 15 is comfortably sitting at number one in every region, followed by the paperback of Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train everywhere but the South West – Eden Project: The Guide has managed to outsell the thriller in that pocket of the UK in 2016 so far.

Looking at a selection of bestsellers for each region, only four titles appear in every top ten: Lean in 15, The Girl on the Train, The World’s Worst Children by David Walliams and Make Me by Lee Child. Here’s some more regional differences that stand out:

  • Three titles make it into the top ten for Northern Ireland but no other region: the film tie-in version of Me Before You by Jojo Moyes, Awful Auntie by David Walliams and Old School by Jeff Kinney. From another angle, The 8-Week Blood Sugar Diet ranks in the top ten books everywhere BUT Northern Ireland.
  • Ella Woodward’s second book Deliciously Ella Every Day is number six in London but beyond position ten everywhere else. On the other hand, London is the only region where Mary Berry: Foolproof Cooking does not appear in the top ten.
  • Scotland has shown more of a liking for John Grisham than other bestsellers this year – Rogue Lawyer is number ten when combining sales from Central Scotland, Northern Scotland and Border but further down in all other regions.
  • Colouring book sales have continued into 2016, even if they are a bit more subdued than last year’s phenomenon – but that hasn’t kept the Harry Potter Colouring Book from grabbing a place in Lancashire’s top ten chart.
  • As the year progresses, World Book Day titles usually relinquish their bestseller positions, but Roald Dahl’s The Great Mouse Plot still takes a spot in the North East’s top ten, and Star Wars: Adventures in Wild Space: The Escape by Cavan Scott appears in both the North East and Yorkshire.
  • Another Yorkshire variance is the presence of Sylvia Day – One with You is number nine there but not within the top ten anywhere else.
  • East of England, Wales & the West and the Midlands all have the same titles in their top ten lists, corresponding to the top titles in the overall UK, but no region has those titles in the same order.

And that’s just for the first half of 2016 – I had a brief look at all-time bestsellers, and while Fifty Shades of Grey is the best-selling book in the overall UK and most individual regions since BookScan began, The Da Vinci Code takes the crown in London, Scotland and Southern.

So where should you live based on your bookshelves?

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.


Free Nielsen key findings report: The UK Children’s & YA Book Consumer

Since 2012, Nielsen Book UK has undertaken a Children’s Deep-Dive Study each summer to investigate children’s book reading and buying habits in the context of other leisure and entertainment pursuits.

For the first time in 2015, in addition to the nationally representative sample of 1,500 parents of 0-13 year olds and 500 young adults aged 14-17, the survey included 1,000 book buyers aged 18-25 to help investigate the phenomenon of adults buying ‘YA’ books for themselves. The research was undertaken in July 2015.

The 2015 research measured a drop in book reading on a weekly basis both among those aged 3-7 and 14-17 – though since 2012, the biggest decrease overall has been among 3-10 year olds. Books, however, still rank as the most popular activity for 0-10 year olds – but are in fifth position for 11-13s and drop out of the top 8 activities for those aged 14+.

For the first time Nielsen segmented the 0-25 book market into groups. ‘Superfans’ – the very heaviest readers – tend to be female, with an average age of 12. ‘Distractable’ and the ‘Anti’ groups are more likely to be males, with the ‘Anti’ group being older (14 on average) and the ‘Distractables’ younger (11 on average), whilst the ‘Potential’ group is as likely to be boys as girls.

This latter group are the ones reading e-books and magazines, and they too like adaptations; with the right content, format and messaging, this is a market that publishers can grow.

Download a free extract of the report here. Or you can purchase the full report via Nielsen here.

skills for publishing

Why publishers must love and understand their customer

Tom Chalmers is the Managing Director of Legend Times, a group of five publishing companies he has founded. He has been shortlisted and longlisted for various awards, is an Enterprise Ambassador for the Prince’s Trust, and regularly speaks on publishing and business.

The first question to any business, business idea or concept is who is the customer? No customer, no business appears is a true and you would think obvious statement. But ask a publisher who their customer is and in most cases you will not receive a clear and focused answer.

One of the issues is the make-up of the supply chain. Publishers spend a large amount of time selling to buyers at retail outlets, or wholesalers, who may or may not be well-aligned with the decision making process of the actual book buyer. You could argue the retailer is the customer, but for businesses the customer should be the end point and, in particular with the shadow of sale-or-return terms, if the book buyer doesn’t buy your products, you don’t have a book publishing business.

So, the person on the street (or in today’s market as likely to be at their computer) is the most important person for a publisher to understand. But all too often those in publishing aren’t even at the understanding stage because before that must be respect and appreciation.

I’ve heard many conversations and read many articles from publishers slamming customers today – want everything for free, just interesting in celebrities/trash, no taste etc. To a publisher the book buyer must be the single most important person to their business and if you aren’t able to respect and make the customer central to everything you do, then frankly you’re taking up a job that could go to someone better.

So having made them central to a publisher’s business, how well are they understood? Some publishers who have successfully found a niche area understand their customer very well and benefit greatly from this. But in the general trade, there is huge and important ground to cover.

Hopefully we are already moving away from ‘will appeal to everyone from 8 to 80’, ‘will appeal to both men and women’ (who else is there…) but most publishers are at the starting point of understanding their customers. Publishers aren’t now competing against other books but just for the customer’s brief attention and therefore against many different forms of entertainment, social media, dating sites and the list goes on and on.

So how to better understand your customer from a standing start? Too much to fit into one blog, but data is vital, with detailed categorisation, data capture, pre and post sales information, focus groups, tailored information being sent, events, partnerships and advanced and trackable discoverability.

All this would be a start, but the message I want to get across is that if a publisher doesn’t currently have a strategy to better understand their customer they are going to be left behind. Publishers cannot now just get books into bookshops and hope for the best; they need multi-layered selling routes knowing exactly whom they are aiming at.

Again, the battle today for any book publisher is to get the customer’s attention. And that can only work if they know exactly whose attention they are trying to capture.

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