In a week when The Bookseller reported that James Daunt was removing Kindle devices from most of Waterstones’ shelves, one wonders if the ever-pragmatic boss of the high street chain was simply making room for Super Thursday books. Last year the trade contrived to release 300 hardbacks simultaneously: this year the number has jumped to 400.
In this week's magazine we highlight those books picked by retailers (from Foyles to Amazon) as their tips for the top. The selections [see infographic below] reflect a changed book market: less reliance on celebrity, and a greater onus on story. It’s a year when Bill Bryson mixes it with Brian Blessed; where David Walliams is already upping his print sales; where an illustrated Harry Potter hits the shelves; and where we have serious and commercial non-fiction such as Jonathan Bate’s Ted Hughes and Mary Beard’s SPQR. It’s a decent crop from publishers, and one that offers an outstanding opportunity for bookshops.
What began back in 2008 with a publicist’s exasperated phone call to The Bookseller has snowballed into a campaign that the whole business should feel fortunate (and proud) to have created. An accidental promotion, if you like, but one that, with the launch of Books Are My Bag and this weekend’s bookshop events, has cemented Super Thursday in both the media and consumers’heads as that moment when Christmas starts - on the high street.
The contrast with digital could not be more stark. The e-book market has many advantages over the print market, but that sense of “celebration” is not yet one of them. There is nothing quite like hundreds of bookshops, thousands of booksellers and hordes of authors meeting customers in live situations, brought together by a generalised love of the “book”.
Digitalists tend to mock this sentimental view of print, and their warnings are probably worth heeding—just this week Emap announced that it was to stop producing print versions of respected business-to-business magazines such as Retail Week, Drapers and Nursing Times. Things do change and sometimes decisively.
Daunt’s de-stocking of the Kindle feels less dramatic than it should. He likened sales to “one of those inexplicable bestsellers”, which may be true of devices but not of e-book sales. Commercial fiction often now sells more in “e” than “p”. The trouble here is that Waterstones was never able to make digital and physical blend - a mistake we simply cannot afford to repeat as an industry. Readers may celebrate the book and revel in bookshops, but theirs is an omnichannel and multimedia world. Super Thursday was a quirk of timing we turned to our advantage, but we have yet to do the same with digital. We all have far to go on this.