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Neale: 'Bookselling financial model needs updating'

Booksellers Association president Patrick Neale has said “more needs to be done” by publishers to bring the core financial model of the bookselling supply chain up to date.
 
In his opening address at the Booksellers Association Conference at the University of Warwick this morning (23rd September) Neale said publishers had to “look again” at the financial model for booksellers because “more can be done, and the more quickly it can be done, the better for the whole ecosystem".
 
He said: “The book value chain has undergone a revolution during the last 20 years and publishers, exploring new routes to market through new channels, have embraced new models. And yet, in the main, the core financial model of supply to bookshops remains unaltered.” He added that although “work is taking place” to amend this, it wasn’t happening quickly enough.
 
Neale also told the conference he could detect a “shift in the narrative” of the media and public perception of bookshops as “places solely for retired colonels and the technically inept”. He praised the BA, working through Midas PR, for the change in perception. “They have campaigned to communicate the value of bookshops and the vibrancy of the sector, while at the same time getting across the complexity of the issues faced,” Neale said. “It’s an incredibly fine balance to strike. Go too far in accentuating the positive and you begin to look like Pollyanna . . . Go the other way and you help confirm another lazy assumption that bookshops are moribund. And it positions us as a charity case—which we don’t want either.”
 
He said British booksellers were another "keystone species" like the bumblebee. If bees disappeared from the planet then man would only have four more years of life left, Neale said. He added: “Now I don’t claim to be Einstein; nor do I claim that the extinction of the bookshop would lead to the death of the planet in less time than it takes to establish a new author. But it doesn’t take a genius, or an optimist, to suggest that the role that booksellers play in the ecosystem of writing and publishing and the health and welfare of authors, publishers and readers is a fundamental one.”
 
He advised booksellers to “look for the infinite possibilities” in their local communities and within their own businesses to prosper, and finished telling the conference that he thought there was more vibrancy in the industry than ever before.
 
“I truly believe that there are more vibrant booksellers in the sector now than at any time in the past,” Neale said. “We need to constantly convince and remind our publisher colleagues that we are people to do business with.”
 
The BA Conference opened with the Gardners Trade Show yesterday (22nd September) and concludes later today with a keynote speech from Bill Bryson. 

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Ah, the old "more needs to be done by publishers" speech. It must be September. I'm assuming he went into specifics as to what this "more" is during the rest of his speech, as this article lacks any real depth at all? There are publishers (usually the smaller ones) working hard and bending over backwards to offer a point of difference to independent booksellers. More generous discounts, consignment, signings, exclusive offers and promotions. But we stil get the lazy publisher-bashing speech. Ho hum.

Why go to the conference next time? Or is lazy bookseller bashing made too hard when you know what you're talking about?

The difference is, I don't "bash" booksellers. We work very constructively with them and don't need to spend the week in Warwick finding out what we already talk to them about on a day-to-day basis anyway (see my above post). To be fair to him, when you've got a keynote address to give, you've got to chuck The Bookseller some sort of headline I suppose.

dubes - I feel we got off on the wrong foot. We very much want to support the growth and health of bookselling, and to clarify, there are people from our company at the conference. I personally am not high enough up the food chain to be invited, but I work tirelessly day in day out with booksellers, in partnership, and am passionate about always giving them something more and new to enable them to thrive. Which is why I kind of get tired of soundbites like this.

I suppose, in fairness, that the bigger publishing houses might not be quite as accomodating.

My initial comment still stands though, as I genuinely want to know what Neale's idea of "more" is. If there were further comments and ideas that expanded upon the headline, then not reporting them is shoddy and the real crime here would then be lazy journalism.

I’ve read this Bookseller report, though not Mr Neale’s entire text, and I don’t see much publisher-bashing, only a genuine attempt to get the booksellers’ situation higher up publishers’ agendas. That strikes me as precisely what his role is as president of the BA.

I accept that in the early 1990s chain booksellers had the upper hand and used it. I can even understand why publishers then fell over themselves in the scramble to open new channels such as Amazon, supermarkets and e-books. The result is that times are different now and do demand a different model.

Mr Neale is right to encourage publishers and booksellers to explore the possibilities. An old chestnut or not, I see no reason why ‘more’ should not include terms, along with initiatives such as greater collaborative marketing, towards which the Books Are My Bag campaign should be seen as a good stepping-stone. The fact remains though that while high street retailers are experiencing the worst business context in decades, the gap in terms between the mega-players such as Amazon/supermarkets and independents remains wider than in any other book trade in the world.

It is against this background that arguments such as mid-list promotion and the launch of new authors through visibility in real bookshops at least deserve a serious hearing.

I just wanted to chime in as a bookseller who feels very much at the bottom of the totem pole in the publishing industry- outdated and unwieldy distribution rights in Canada mean that I often have to wait 2 weeks to a month (or more) to receive books, even rush orders for clients. As a specialty academic store, I feel like we're caught between service to libraries and Amazon/Big Box stores. We get reduced discounting from university presses, who also now substitute poor quality print-on-demand products without any notification. And when we order from the big trade companies, frequently all copies of a new title are already being shipped to the big stores and Amazon, leaving us to wait a month for restocking!

It feels like the publishers are so focused on the big guys that we really get the short end of the stick.

'British booksellers' as a 'keystone species like the bumblebee' is an interesting and useful metaphor. Without them, the whole ecosystem crashes. What happens if we extend the metaphor? The UK government has spent 3million quid looking into what is causing the demise of the bumblebee. Where's such research for the book industry? Why aren't we researching and trialling the sorts of 'new financial models' that Neale mentions. For all the talk of new models, no one really knows what they are. If they did know what they were, we'd be rolling them out and saving the book selling industry right now. We wouldn't be having this conversation. So let's start researching and trialling already!... Oh, but it takes money. Where's the money gonna come from? Who are the fatcats of the book industry? Who can extract the necessary from them? Who has that power? Come on the UK government, isn't it your job to safeguard UK businesses that have international markets? Sit down with the main players and get it sorted, before I die, please. (And, by the way, it's not just book sellers who are given a torrid time by those publishers who want to keep everyone else at the bottom of the value chain, it's authors too.)

...Which perhaps begs the question why booksellers seem to focus solely on their relationship with publishers (as per the Neale speech/article). Surely there are other relationships that are just as important? The relationship between booksellers and authors, perhaps? Why isn't that relationship being explored more, being professionalised more, etc, to have its full potential and maximum value realised? I'm not talking about this relationship INSTEAD of the one between booksellers and publishers, but rather as a complement. Let's stop being so binary in our anticipation of solutions. Let's look at triangles (author, publisher, bookseller), squares (author, publisher, bookseller, agent), pentagons (author, publisher, bookseller, agent, government)... anyway, you get the idea with that. Shapes.

Ah, the old "more needs to be done by publishers" speech. It must be September. I'm assuming he went into specifics as to what this "more" is during the rest of his speech, as this article lacks any real depth at all? There are publishers (usually the smaller ones) working hard and bending over backwards to offer a point of difference to independent booksellers. More generous discounts, consignment, signings, exclusive offers and promotions. But we stil get the lazy publisher-bashing speech. Ho hum.

Why go to the conference next time? Or is lazy bookseller bashing made too hard when you know what you're talking about?

The difference is, I don't "bash" booksellers. We work very constructively with them and don't need to spend the week in Warwick finding out what we already talk to them about on a day-to-day basis anyway (see my above post). To be fair to him, when you've got a keynote address to give, you've got to chuck The Bookseller some sort of headline I suppose.

dubes - I feel we got off on the wrong foot. We very much want to support the growth and health of bookselling, and to clarify, there are people from our company at the conference. I personally am not high enough up the food chain to be invited, but I work tirelessly day in day out with booksellers, in partnership, and am passionate about always giving them something more and new to enable them to thrive. Which is why I kind of get tired of soundbites like this.

I suppose, in fairness, that the bigger publishing houses might not be quite as accomodating.

My initial comment still stands though, as I genuinely want to know what Neale's idea of "more" is. If there were further comments and ideas that expanded upon the headline, then not reporting them is shoddy and the real crime here would then be lazy journalism.

I’ve read this Bookseller report, though not Mr Neale’s entire text, and I don’t see much publisher-bashing, only a genuine attempt to get the booksellers’ situation higher up publishers’ agendas. That strikes me as precisely what his role is as president of the BA.

I accept that in the early 1990s chain booksellers had the upper hand and used it. I can even understand why publishers then fell over themselves in the scramble to open new channels such as Amazon, supermarkets and e-books. The result is that times are different now and do demand a different model.

Mr Neale is right to encourage publishers and booksellers to explore the possibilities. An old chestnut or not, I see no reason why ‘more’ should not include terms, along with initiatives such as greater collaborative marketing, towards which the Books Are My Bag campaign should be seen as a good stepping-stone. The fact remains though that while high street retailers are experiencing the worst business context in decades, the gap in terms between the mega-players such as Amazon/supermarkets and independents remains wider than in any other book trade in the world.

It is against this background that arguments such as mid-list promotion and the launch of new authors through visibility in real bookshops at least deserve a serious hearing.

I just wanted to chime in as a bookseller who feels very much at the bottom of the totem pole in the publishing industry- outdated and unwieldy distribution rights in Canada mean that I often have to wait 2 weeks to a month (or more) to receive books, even rush orders for clients. As a specialty academic store, I feel like we're caught between service to libraries and Amazon/Big Box stores. We get reduced discounting from university presses, who also now substitute poor quality print-on-demand products without any notification. And when we order from the big trade companies, frequently all copies of a new title are already being shipped to the big stores and Amazon, leaving us to wait a month for restocking!

It feels like the publishers are so focused on the big guys that we really get the short end of the stick.

'British booksellers' as a 'keystone species like the bumblebee' is an interesting and useful metaphor. Without them, the whole ecosystem crashes. What happens if we extend the metaphor? The UK government has spent 3million quid looking into what is causing the demise of the bumblebee. Where's such research for the book industry? Why aren't we researching and trialling the sorts of 'new financial models' that Neale mentions. For all the talk of new models, no one really knows what they are. If they did know what they were, we'd be rolling them out and saving the book selling industry right now. We wouldn't be having this conversation. So let's start researching and trialling already!... Oh, but it takes money. Where's the money gonna come from? Who are the fatcats of the book industry? Who can extract the necessary from them? Who has that power? Come on the UK government, isn't it your job to safeguard UK businesses that have international markets? Sit down with the main players and get it sorted, before I die, please. (And, by the way, it's not just book sellers who are given a torrid time by those publishers who want to keep everyone else at the bottom of the value chain, it's authors too.)

...Which perhaps begs the question why booksellers seem to focus solely on their relationship with publishers (as per the Neale speech/article). Surely there are other relationships that are just as important? The relationship between booksellers and authors, perhaps? Why isn't that relationship being explored more, being professionalised more, etc, to have its full potential and maximum value realised? I'm not talking about this relationship INSTEAD of the one between booksellers and publishers, but rather as a complement. Let's stop being so binary in our anticipation of solutions. Let's look at triangles (author, publisher, bookseller), squares (author, publisher, bookseller, agent), pentagons (author, publisher, bookseller, agent, government)... anyway, you get the idea with that. Shapes.