…no. As you may remember, I took my latest book – “Susan in the City: The Cambridge News Years” – into our local branch of WH Smith. They weren’t keen on considering the Plank books when I took those in, but I thought that a book by a local author, a collection of columns that had appeared in the local paper, might have local appeal. I had visions of a lovely yellow display alongside the newspaper… The manager said that he would put the proposal to head office, and perhaps then I should have heard the distant knell of doom.
Anyway, I called in today and was told that, in the “current challenging book market”, WH Smith does not want to take on any new books until the start of their new financial year, in September. I nodded politely, but inside I was saying, “Whaaaaaaat?”. As everyone in the book world knows, physical books – as opposed to e-books – have made a strong recovery in recent months: indeed, sales through bricks-and-mortar shops rose by 7% in 2016. And as for the idea that WH Smith is not going to put out any new titles on their shelves until September – I suspect that this is piffle. If that’s really the case, they’re going to kick themselves for missing out on the new Ian Rankin paperback (due out on 15 June) and the new Jamie Oliver hardback cookbook (due out on 24 August).
Mind you, I can see how taking on my title in one branch might be too great a risk for head office. I was offering them five copies, with them keeping 35% of the cover price, on a sale or return basis. So if their copies did not sell, they could return them to me in any condition and not pay my invoice for £25.97. Thank goodness they spotted that threat to their commercial survival – and handed any sales to the other two local bookshops that are stocking it, and to the online retailer they really dread. Harrumph.
(And in case you think this is simply an enormous bunch of sour grapes, it’s not the refusal that has annoyed me: it’s the dissembling. It’s the same as the email I received earlier this year from a small airline that I use regularly, informing me that, “in order to improve the customer experience”, they will no longer be offering free drinks on their flights. We all know they’re doing it to reduce costs and increase profits – and why not? they’re a commercial airline, not a charity – so why the mealy-mouthed not-justification?)
I’m sorry that your efforts weren’t better rewarded and that you were given some classic “corporate speak” to explain the decision. Like you, and no doubt quite a few others, I do find it very annoying when companies try to justify certain decisions with wording that sounds lovely and “customer friendly” but is actually a complete spin of the reality. Still, a cynic might say they are in good company with certain politicians etcetera so perhaps I just need to get used to this brave new world of saying one thing whilst meaning another. On the other hand, I think I’ll just stick to my old fashioned approach and always try to say things as they actually are.
Thank you for appreciating the frustration! Like you (and indeed, like Sam Plank) I much prefer plain speaking. Why not just say: “We’re not keen on self-published authors”, or “We think the book’s rubbish”? As you say, this meaningless sloganising infects so many parts of modern life – it’s exhausting and a big waste of time!
Best wishes from Susan
Roy McCarthy said:
No I’m afraid WHS are pretty intractable. Here they refuse most local fiction, but then pushed the boat out with a huge promotion of the Guernsey novel set in WW2 (which you might have come across). I won’t darken their doorstep if I can help it.
Our local branch is certainly chaotic. As far as I can tell, books are a distant priority for them after a gazillion magazines, dozens of ranges of schoolgirl stationery, and racks of reduced Easter eggs! That said, it would have been a coup…
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