Publishers and agents are divided over the performance of Waterstone’s distribution centre after The Bookseller reported serious concerns about supply last week.
A number of big publishers spoken to this week downplayed the problems—Ian Hudson, Random House deputy c.e.o., said: "While we did have some initial issues our problems now are relatively minor compared to the problems that can arise in opening or relocating warehouses." Tim Hely Hutchinson, chief executive of Hachette UK, said that "good progress has been made" (see full quote below).
But others, including smaller publishers and agents, again voiced concern over the “ongoing” issues. John Blake said it had recently had to deliver one of its titles direct to stores, with m.d. John Blake adding: “The hub has got teething problems and I would imagine that it’s severely affecting their sales.” Curtis Brown agent Jonny Geller urged Waterstone’s to be “more transparent”, adding “patently there is and has been” a problem with delivery of books into shops.
Last week the Independent Publishers Guild surveyed its members about the hub though results are not yet in. It plans to discuss the results directly with the chain.
Last week The Bookseller reported publisher concern over getting books to stores from the hub for events and author signings, how long books would spend in the hub and backlist stock replenishment. The chain is believed to have changed the internal procedures inside the hub to increase through-flow in the past three weeks.
A visit by The Bookseller to central London stores saw low quantities of some top titles. Meanwhile, staff were telling customers that orders could take as long as four weeks to fulfil.
Waterstone’s was not available for comment. It has blocked access to The Bookseller’s website from computers in its stores and offices, as a result of last week’s story, which has received a record number of comments.
What they are saying about the hub
Tim Hely Hutchinson
Chief executive of Hachette UK
"The launch of the hub is an enormous project and it is not surprising that there have been some teething troubles. Waterstone's is working flat out to ensure that whatever problems they have had are resolved very quickly and good progress has been made. Waterstone's is keeping us fully informed every step of the way and the team there knows we are in full support. We were very pleased that the great majority of major titles published on Super Thursday were on sale on time around the country, proving that the hub passed this major test."
Managing director of Curtis Brown
"For too long, our authors have been told by Waterstone's (via their publishers) that there is no problem with delivery of their books into stores, when patently there is and has been. I would urge Waterstone's to be more transparent and helpful in the coming weeks, as it erodes authors' belief in them. Many of our top literary authors have enjoyed long and good relationships with the chain, but the past two or three months have been very troubling."