As an inveterate browser of bookshops I’ve only occasionally allowed myself to be sucked in by the 3-for-2 deals on the front tables and I usually make an effort to head for the main shelving at the back. It has been known for a long time that shops such as Waterstones charge publishers to place favoured titles in the prime spots. And why wouldn’t they? Waterstones is in business to make money first and foremost and the books could just as well be garden gnomes for all the accountants care. It’s tough on authors and publishers and it may well have a bad effect on the choices available to readers, but it’s hardly a big surprise that a retailer should act in its commercial interests.
The Times featured an article yesterday about what the book chain charges publishers and the headline figure is high: up to £45,000 to place a title in a Waterstones campaign.
The most expensive package, available for only six books and designed to “maximise the potential of the biggest titles for Christmas”, costs £45,000 per title. The next category down offers prominent display spots at the front of each branch to about 45 new books for £25,000. Inclusion on the Paperbacks of the Year list costs up to £7,000 for each book, while an entry in Waterstone’s Gift Guide, with a book review, is a relative snip at £500.
What can we make of this? It certainly doesn’t look good, but given the need to make profit Waterstones simply can’t use “bungs” alone to decide on which books to promote. Bad books make readers feel bad and the last thing a retailer wants is for its customers to lose confidence. Front table books remind me of Donkey in Shrek, who jumps up and down shouting “Pick Me! Pick Me!” John Sutherland, writing for the Guardian’s Comment is Free blogsite agrees:
The new, commercially skewed, “buy-me-buy-me”, layout in Waterstone’s is, of course, coercive, and harks back to the “subliminal advertising” scandal of the 1960s (messages would be flashed on cinema screens – too fast for the eye to catch, but picked up by the brain). It’s Stepfordisation. Zombiefication. It’s wrong.
But you know, Donkey does get picked and that after all is what publishers and writers want. Isn’t it?