Goodbye for now
14.12.09 | J RIVERS
My retirement gift from Bertrams bore three dates and the inscription "third time lucky", because I had attempted to retire twice before, and was in danger of having more farewells than Tina Turner.
This is my last Opinion piece. I spent 38 years across the trade—Ward Lock, Thorsons, Dillons, Bertrams, and various consultancies, during which I participated in the greatest period of change . . . ever.
Before Dillons and Waterstone’s, bookshops were often dark and unwelcoming, with dreadful supply times. Publishing was more relaxed, protected by the Net Book Agreement and sitting on more margin than today. It was fine to take three weeks to supply a book, often with no reports.
Bertrams dissolved publishers’ monopoly, by introducing next-morning supply and 95% availability. As a result, independents outperformed their larger competitors in both availability and stockturn and wholesalers began to change the trade forever. Now, all internet supply and service relies heavily on wholesalers, and Waterstones’ hub supply problems are being eased by Gardners.
The NBA was a 100-year-old restrictive market fixer, best serving the suppliers, and incidentally the-then dominant W H Smith, because the public perceived them as cheaper than regular bookshops. I enjoyed pricking that perception at Dillons. Nobody could realistically expect retail price maintenance to continue to exist for a fashion item like a general book. I regret, however, publisher complicity and establishment acceptance, in giving the general trade to the supermarkets to exploit ruthlessly, to the detriment of stockholding booksellers.
Despite this, it seems that well-managed independents are still opening. More important than all this is the roll-out of digitisation. The potential is to bring readers and authors closer, with instant supply. Publishers need to reconsider the market dynamics of e-books, which must surely lose linkage with hardback prices?
Terry Maher, Kip Bertram and David Young are different personalities but all had undiluted ambition and vision for their businesses. I learnt much from them, and enjoyed the ride. In 1985 I interviewed a candidate for my assistant at Thorsons. She wanted to head all sales instead—and a year later she did. Talent will out, and the rest is history.
Goodbye to you all and Good Ridout.