Bookshops should get it while they can
"Richard Samson, chair of the proceedings at the Independent Trade Forum in York last week, described his job of organising the group of independents as “like herding cats”. With this in mind, Faber’s announcement that it will extend its Independent Alliance of seven publishers to also include independent retail customers looks pretty ambitious.
The alliance’s opening offer is 56% discount on a range of 50 titles designed for a summer reading three-for-two offer. Point-of-sale is also supplied. In return, booksellers verbally agree a sales growth target in the region of 15% annually for alliance titles, with a progress review after six months.
Faber is taking the softly softly approach. Will Atkinson, sales director, uses the term “corralling”: the welcome is extended to any bookshops that choose to join the alliance’s circle. Success so far in encouraging such independent spirits as Profile’s Andrew Franklin and Canongate’s Jamie Byng to move together in roughly the same direction suggests that Faber could make this work, irrespective of any feline tendencies.
This is the opposite of automated schemes for independents such as Amazon.co.uk’s Advantage for small publishers, or Marketplace for retailers, which are ruled by written agreements, and managed through a website.
The alliance instead relies on face-to-face contact with a dedicated account manager, and on conversation; there are many “soft edges” to the financial commitments involved. It is precisely this flexibility in the rules, the individual, and the dialogue-based approach which gives Faber’s alliance its strength.
For those independent bookshops that are serious in their desire to fight back against the chains, this offer provides some of the resources they say they need. True, some booksellers may need to put the business through their wholesale supplier in order to trigger a higher discount, and it is likely that not every alliance promotion will suit every bookshop every time.
At the ITF meeting, a feeling of optimism seemed to be rising among some booksellers, as they felt the pendulum swinging back in their favour: a wave of anti-corporate consumerism is encouraging support for local traders, and suppliers are wising up to the value of the independent trade.
Not only Faber, but also Bloomsbury and Penguin are developing offers especially for independents. Snowbooks has offered a discount level with the chains too.
Independent bookshops should consider these offers soberly, because they need all the help they can get against the chains, the internet and the supermarkets."