Waterstone's has called for academic publishers to "significantly" increase their support for the chain, warning bricks and mortar academic bookselling could vanish from the high street within a few years.
The retailer's m.d. Dominic Myers told delegates at the Bookseller Association’s annual Academic, Professional and Specialist Bookselling Group conference last week that the academic bookselling industry was at a “crisis point,” in which 2011 would be a defining year.
The digital world in which students operate is a particular threat to academic bookselling, Myers said, and the current business model has struggled to maintain pace with the changes. For bricks and mortar academic booksellers to survive the next 12 months, Myers called on academic publishers and booksellers to work more closely together.
“From my perspective academic bookselling actually is at crisis point,” he said opening his presentation. “I believe that booksellers and publishers need a different co-operative model and I think we have to create a paradigm shift in how we address the online market for physical books.”
To sell books to students during peak season trading, Waterstone's has to offer at least a 10% discount, which cost the company £1m last year, Myers said. “I need hardly remind you that last year Waterstone's registered a total profit of just £3million,” Myers said. Quoting one of his managers, he added: “We made less and less money year after year selling overpriced items to people with very little money who know where they can get it cheaper.”
To address the issue, Myers asked publishers to fund shop-front windows with consignment stock during off-peak trading seasons, improve the margins they offer and find more innovative ways of delivering content to students. He said: “We need to improve our margins. I don’t mean our usual half a percent haggle, I mean moving the dial significantly towards booksellers. We on our part will introduce a much bigger diversity of student-friendly product to improve margin but academic book margin is down to you."
He also called for more equitable joint funding and discounting, in particular a contribution towards promotional discounting. “We cannot afford to keep subsidising and keeping the academic market on the high street. If we can make those things happen there is a host of ways we can co-operate to drive sales.” Waterstone’s could work to create dedicated spaces in store for certain ranges and give loyalty cards to lecturers, Myers added.
He also said booksellers and publishers should share more information, such as reading list data, and create an online site making it easy for students to find that information.
“We do want to sell educational books on the high street and on campus and online but only with the right model,” Myers said. “This is actually a tipping point year for this industry – let’s have some honesty between booksellers and publishers and do something about it. This could otherwise be the last year of academic on the high street.”