Promotions by the book
G uess how much it costs to feature a book in the front window of Waterstone's 300 stores? Do I hear £5,000? £10,000? £20,000? No
- all wrong. According to a letter
The Times recently, the amount is a none-too-paltry £45,000.
There are cheaper options - £25,000 will buy you a spot in a gift book bay close to a till - but the sums involved give you an idea of what it costs to promote a book these days.
This may sound like a lot of dosh, especially when you set it alongside the pathetic advances
paid to most authors, but it's a reflection of the balance of power in the book industry. The likes of Waterstone's and WH Smith (whose demands are apparently just as extreme) can get away with charging such sums because of the clout they wield .
In one sense, you can't blame publishers for acquiescing. Something like a quarter of a million
titles are published in the UK each year, which makes it hard to put an individual
one in front of readers. Sales through small independents are negligible, which leaves publishers with a choice: either they play ball with Amazon, Borders, Books Etc, Waterstone's, WH Smith and the supermarkets, or they go out of business.
As one insider told me: "Publishers need bigger and bigger budgets to meet the increasing costs of retail promotions. But as publishers keep paying and the demand to get selected is so high, booksellers will just keep charging more. When you go to
a bookseller to pitch a book, they want to know what the marketing and publicity departments are going to do
and what kind of money you have to spend."
Before you accuse me of writing something that belongs in the pages of the Bookseller, I'd like to draw a parallel with wine. When I wrote an article three years ago about a major supermarket asking a new Australian supplier for £40,000 as a listing fee, despite the fact that the wine was excellent and well packaged, many people were shocked.
Nowadays, suppliers appear to accept "marketing support", "exposure funds", "incentives" and "pre-investment" (all of which are listing fees of one sort or another) as part of the cost of doing business with major retailers.
There's a lot of talk about partnerships, investment and growth strategies, especially from the retailers, but this is an increasingly uneven relationship.
"Even if your brand has equity, the goalposts just seem to move further and further apart," one supplier lamented. "It's give and take," said another. "We give and they take."
Not everyone agrees. Steve Barton, of Brand Phoenix, says he can't see what all the fuss is about. "The retailers have done a bloody good job for the wine trade and, as a supplier, you should enter that environment with your eyes wide open. Charging for retail space has been commonplace for 20 years. Floor space in the wine department is very valuable because it gives a product much greater exposure to consumers. As a brand owner, visibility is your lifeblood."
Dan Jago at Tesco denies that the supermarket asks for listing fees from wine suppliers. "The sums Waterstone's are asking for just don't exist in the wine business. Like all retailers we use competitive bargaining and we agree a promotional package with individual suppliers, but a product has to deliver on quality and sales at a required margin on and off-promotion rather than based on a lump sum." Jago also says
the deal Tesco does "depends on how passionate we are about a wine".
The wine world is not yet as competitive as the book world, partly because margins are much lower, but it's moving in that direction. If so, we should heed the words of Anthony Cheetham, chairman of the independent publisher
The Times : " There is a genuine level of exasperation and anxiety in the publishing industry that the booksellers have gone too far. It's the reader who loses out because it's throttling the distribution of a wider range of high quality books and perpetuating the system whereby you plaster the entire country with copies of the same few books." Sound familiar?
Chuffed to pieces about ban on smoking in public places
Only two days to go. If you're not a nicotine addict, you'll be celebrating the arrival of the smoking ban in England and Wales this Sunday.
As someone who has almost given up going to pubs because of the smell of smoke, and had too many good meals ruined by inconsiderate chuffers at the next table, I can't wait.
But what do publicans have to say? Nielsen's figures point to a 4-5 per cent loss of on-trade drink volume in Scotland over the
past year, with beer taking the biggest hit. But what is more interesting is that light wine sales have grown north of the border, suggesting that wine drinkers appreciate the chance to enjoy a glass without the smell of a Marlborough Light in their nostrils.
I suspect that the UK-wide imposition of the ban will provide a much-needed boost to wine sales in pubs, clubs and restaurants. Smokers may choose to buy their wine in off-licences and consume it, fag in hand, at home, but the rest of us will be more than happy to enjoy a glass at the bar.