The "snobbery" of booksellers in not stocking or promoting romance titles is "giving Amazon a huge advantage" and driving more sales through online channels, m.d. of women's fiction publisher Choc Lit, Lyn Vernham, has said.
Vernham has told The Bookseller she believes many bricks and mortar booksellers are "reluctant" to stock and promote "high quality women's fiction and romance" and this is playing into the hands of their online rivals.
"Too many booksellers are missing a trick," Vernham said. "A lot of bookshops are very passionate about their product and what they sell – but they sell what they read and they’re probably unlikely to read women’s fiction and that content. Therefore they’re probably reluctant to sell it. But at the end of the day, they’re giving Amazon such a huge advantage, they’re making it so easy for them because there’s no snobbery, they’ll just sell whatever they want. For our readers, they’re not intimidated in any way [shopping online], but when they go into a bookshop and look for a book that has a pretty pink cover, they feel intimidated so they buy it online because they don’t feel welcome in the stores."
Vernham added: “It’s not a new problem, it’s a long term problem; there’s always been a snobbery over romance in the industry. I think the industry as a whole looks at the romance reader and thinks perhaps that they are a stay-at-home mum, or very young, but the way that we choose our novels is through our tasting panel and over the seven years [we've been operating] we’ve managed to gain lots of information about who our readers are."
Choc Lit selects titles to publish through its ‘tasting panel’ which is made up of readers. Speaking of the composition of Choc Lit's readers, Vernham said: "It's fair to say a bookseller wouldn't sniff at such customers walking through the door. As you would expect, most - but not all - of our readers are women, but they are also in the main, professional and with money to spend. Altogether 87% are aged between 26 and 64. They are a little different to the stereotypical image of the romance reader that has traditionally been touted around the British publishing industry - but very much in keeping with the profile of today's bookshop customers.”
Although Vernham is unaware of the particular bookshops that do not stock Choc Lit titles, she claims that Choc Lit sales representatives experience “reluctance” on the part of booksellers to take them. "We find that when our sales teams approach bookshops, the bookshops say, 'we don’t sell your product', but what I’m saying is, 'actually you do. Our readership has the same profile as bookshops'."
Vernham said: "The issue that we have is that through the last seven years, our customers know that they can’t get our books in bookshops, so they don’t go there. So we have to work together to try and drive people into those bookshops, and that’s a bit of work that we need to do as well as the bookshops. We need their support in order to do that. And obviously, if we don’t get that support, we just drive them online, which is what we have been doing."
She said that online retailers including Amazon, Apple and Kobo are "definitely easier" to work with. "They're more approachable, we’ve sold over a million books online so we know our product works online. We have good relationships with them, they’re much easier to approach. They just want to sell books."
Vernham added: "I think that we – as an industry – need to make those shops more welcoming, more diverse and able to offer more choice."
Altogether 18 of Choc Lit's books have generated just under £260,000 since the first was published in 2009 according to Nielsen BookScan. Sue Moorcroft has sold Choc Lit’s top three best-selling print titles: Starting Over (10,861 copies), All that Mullarkey (4,492) and Love & Freedom (2,922).