Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Waterstone's Requires Cash from Publishers for Prime Store Placement

British bookstore chain Waterstone's has apparently been using a system similar to that of American radio stations which have often required cash from record labels in exchange for placing their songs on staion play lists. The stations have been known to receive thousands of dollars and numerous gifts in return for helping to make a new song into a national hit. Now Waterstone's admits that it has been requiring publishers to pay for special placement and promotion in its bookstores. ...or does it? The article ends with a bit of spin that claims that Waterstone's judgment was not influenced in any way by all that money changing hands.
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.

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.
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?

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?


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. I'm forced to remove an anonymous comment about the current business practices of Waterstone's that was posted here this morning. I'm doing that only because I'm not an attorney and am unsure about any legal exposure I might have if I leave the comments up.

    I do appreciate the insights offered in the comment but do not feel comfortable leaving them up on the site.



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