Retail wars begin as Pullman shoots to number one in pre-orders

Retail wars begin as Pullman shoots to number one in pre-orders

Less than 24 hours after the announcement that Philip Pullman is to release a new epic fantasy series entitled The Book of Dust, the first volume has shot to number one in Amazon's bestseller charts through pre-order sales.

Retail wars have already commenced with both Amazon and Waterstones offering the first instalment, due out on 19th October, with a 50% discount off the £20 book. Independent booksellers meanwhile have vowed to think "creatively" about how best to secure a share of the sales. Waterstones m.d James Daunt has said the first book could be worth around £8m in sales to the chain alone - 2% of its overall revenue.

Zool Verjee, deputy manager of Blackwell's Oxford, said the store is planning something "stupendous" to mark the publication of the book. Pullman lives in Oxford and is well-known in the bookshop. “Everyone in this shop is floating", he said. "It is fantastic, we know him really well and he’s done a number of events with us. This news has got us thinking of how to make people aware. We’ll have our own 'Philip Pullman campaign'. We want to pull out all the stops and do something stupendous."

Verjee revealed that the team had met first thing on Wednesday morning (15th February) as soon as the book was announced to kick off preparations: "We’ve already started discussions with Philip to get his views, we want to see what he wants to do with events, window displays and everything like that. It remains to be seen whether we will do one huge event or two or three smaller events. We will be thinking about events, window displays, table displays, online presence. When we did a Grimm Tales (Penguin Classics) signing with him in 2013 there were queues out onto the street and it took him hours. He just signed and signed and signed. He uses this bookshop regularly and cares about it."

Verjee, who has worked at the store for 17 years, said that the shop's "reputation for being innovative" will help it think of creative solutions to combat Waterstones and Amazon's half-price discount.

He added that Pullman's connection with Oxford means he has a "significant and meaningful" link to the bookshop: "A hundred people work here and we are so excited. It will be the book of the year. The fact he is from Oxford is the most significant and meaningful link. It pulls people together. We have a reputation for selling his books hand over fist at this store and he’s been involved with us for around 15 years. When we look at our end of year results it will have had a significant effect, we will talk about the ‘Philip Pullman effect’."

Independent booksellers have agreed that the effect of publication will have a boost in sales. Octavia Karavla, owner of Octavia’s bookshop in Cirencester, said that the news was "wonderful" for retailers. "A new series and the long awaited return of the incredible Philip Pullman and the wondrous Lyra will absolutely boost bookshop sales." 

She added: "Both children and adults will be thrilled and eager to buy The Book of Dust. We will be selling it at full price as we do not feel the need to discount such good quality books, particularly when Pullman has such a substantial following of avid readers."

Speaking of promotional activity, Karavla added: "We will certainly make a window display and have it on the counter as well as in section to make it as prominent as possible. We will also make sure to offer a pre-order bonus of the stamps on our customer’s loyalty cards. It will also be out in time to lead the gift books in the run up to Christmas."

Nic Bottomley, owner of Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights in Bath, agreed that the news was "very exciting" and predicted that "every shop" could potentially be boosted by the book's October publication.

To compete with the bigger retailers on discounts, Bottomley said the shop will "do something fun" and is adamant that he will not discount the book to half price.  

"There are lots of ways to get your share. When Go Set a Watchman (by Harper Lee) came out we didn't discount it, we created soecial bundles with nice editions of To Kill A Mockingbird. [For The Book of Dust] we wouldn't start to make a plan in February for something happening in October, we wouldn’t do that just yet - that’s the nature of independent bookselling. We’ll have a sit down and think of something creative to get a good share of the market for the pre-orders."

Bottomley added that he could see Pullman's backlist receiving an uplift in sales and attention, with the new series bringing a "whole new range of readers to the first books".

Nicola Lee, manager of Children’s Bookshop Huddersfield, agreed. "New series always perk up backlists," she said. "Publishers start putting in more effort with the backlist - new jackets and so on."

She added that although she personally was "excited" for the new series, she said Pullman's work was "difficult for some children to read". Speaking about the impact of the series in Huddersfield, Yorkshire, where the shop is based, Lee said: "[His Dark Materials] are not the go to book here. We always have them in stock, but not big sellers for us, maybe the new series will change that."

Margaret Wallace-Jones, co-owner of Alligator Bookshop in Richmond, London, said the news was "hugely exciting". She said that the series has a "mass crossover appeal" and will attract both adults and children. Although she added that it was "hard to say" if the publication would drastically affect sales, Wallace-Jones said: "Anything that promotes kids’ books is great for us."

Wallace-Jones said the shop would possibly offer vouchers with sales of the book to encourage buyers to return to the shop. She added that the shop's "thriving" book group would also help push sales of the book. 

Waterstones m.d James Daunt previously told The Bookseller the first title could be worth as much as £8m in sales to the chain when it is released. “It will be another queues at midnight book,” he said. “(His Dark Materials) introduces people to reading and cements their love of books. People go back to them again and again. They are hugely important and seminal books."

The chain’s science fiction and fantasy, YA and graphic novel buyer Kate McHale added: “The Book of Dust has been anticipated for so many years that we couldn’t have been more excited to hear that the first volume will publish this year. Personally, I know I speak for a lot of fans when I say that Northern Lights changed me as a reader and I really can’t wait to go back into Lyra’s world. October seems like an agonizingly long wait, but we’ll be looking forward not only to the book itself but to bringing fans together and celebrating it as one of the real highlights of the year.”

The first yet-to-be-named instalment in the series will be released on 19th October published jointly by Penguin Random House Children’s and David Fickling Books in the UK. The new series will stand "beside" Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy as neither a prequel or a sequel but "in fact… an ‘equel’" with the character of Lyra “at the centre of the story”.

Announcing the new series earlier today, Pullman said: “I know from their letters and tweets that my readers have been waiting patiently (mostly) for The Book of Dust for a long time. It gives me great pleasure and some excitement at last to satisfy their curiosity (and mine) about this book."