Waterstone's, the book chain, admitted yesterday that it has asked publishers for up to £45,000 to promote their books in its 300-plus stores, but the retailer strongly denied that the money influences which titles it recommends to buyers....
For £45,000 per book, Waterstone's, the document suggested, would place six titles in windows, front-of-house displays and in a national advertising campaign....
For £25,000, the chain allegedly offered to feature a title in a front-of-store bay as a "gift book", and at tills. For £17,000, a book, it was claimed, would be displayed as one of two titles billed as the "offer of the week" for one week in the run-up to Christmas.
A payment of £7,000 would allegedly ensure a book was promoted as a Paperback of the Year and be mentioned in newspaper advertisements, while £500 would see a book appear in Waterstone's Christmas gift guide, complete with a bookseller review.
Though readers may believe that titles recommended or given prominence in book shops are purely down to a retailer's judgement, similar charges to those alleged are now said to be standard across the book industry. One supermarket chain is said to be considering charging publishers just for the right to pitch a book.So is this another "chicken and egg" case? Should book publishers who have their product chosen as worthy of special attention be asked to help cover the promotional costs? Does this make you, the reader, feel that you are being conned by the bookstores? What about small publishers who can't afford this kind of money to promote one of its titles? Is this an unfair advantage to the major publishing houses?
Anthony Cheetham, chairman of Quercus Books, said: "It's not a system you can opt out of. If retailers offer you one of these slots and you say no, their order doesn't go down from 1,000 copies to 500 copies - it goes down to 20 copies."
But Waterstone's firmly denied selling favours yesterday. A spokesman said that its "recommended" titles were picked by its own experts and that only then were publishers of those titles approached and asked to make a contribution to the cost of promotion.
This may turn out to be a common practice in the U.K., and it may be perfectly legal. But is it right? Now I wonder if there is a similar practice in this country. My first inclination is to denounce this kind of thing because I've seen first hand how a similar practice has ruined American radio and resulted in only a handful of songs getting any exposure. The stations are boringingly predictable and listeners are abadononing them in droves. Is this what we want for our bookstores?