'Where can I buy this book?'

It was a Powerpoint slide with just six words on but after presenting at The Bookseller's Children’s Conference a few weeks ago, I’ve had more tweets, emails and conversations about this slide than any other. And with good reason. It is, for anyone working in publishing, a show-stopping question.  

“Where can I buy this book?”

That’s right.

“Where can I buy this book?”

That’s the question we’re often asked when we feature a book on the Toppsta Facebook page.  

The first few times I saw the question, I would just reply with a link to buy the book on Wordery or Hive. This was surely just someone who was a bit short of time. Perhaps there were multiple formats available on Amazon and it wasn’t clear which one we were featuring. Or perhaps the person didn’t have time to pop into their local bookshop. But the question was asked so frequently that curiousity got the better of me and I decided to strike up a conversation with one mum who asked it. The bottom line was: “I can’t find this book in my local supermarket and that’s where I normally buy my books”.

I enjoy asking the Toppsta Facebook fans questions. It’s one of the reasons I love social media. Who is your favourite author? Which other books would you recommend for this age-group? Do you visit your local library? Tell us what’s your favourite children’s book on Toppsta? And I love reading the answers. This community of parents help me discover new authors and books, but I also discover a bit about the community too, such as where they shop and how they find out about new books.

But this question back from them, “Where can I buy this book?” just floored me.

Initially, I was shocked. I know just how much time goes into all the incredibly creative campaigns I see from publishers each week. What if it’s all a waste of time and we’re talking to consumers who just need to know where to buy the book? But once I got over the shock, I realised that it’s actually hugely encouraging because potentially there are many, many more people who would perhaps buy books if they just knew a bit more about the books coming out and where to buy them from.

I remember a presentation at the Nielsen Insights conference last year, which said that publishing only spends 0.67% on advertising verses 5% for FCMG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods). Having worked in retail, it was a figure that didn’t surprise me but I think this question of where to buy books really brings home the impact that it has. 89% of the Toppsta Facebook fans are outside London and we’ve used our Facebook channel to reach ordinary parents who aren’t necessarily actively looking for books. I always say that we’re targeting the mum in the playground pushing the kid on the swing as they check their Facebook status. Facebook enables us to reach people who don’t necessarily have a local bookstore or who have one but have never been in it. We’re just talking to normal families up and down the UK and featuring books they may not have heard of.

Marketing is only one piece of the puzzle. Diversity is also a serious issue and retail outside of traditional channels is another but with the decline of the bookshop on the high street with their brilliant window displays, we are, I think, letting normal families slip through the net.

Georgina Atwell runs children’s books website Toppsta