A blog from Tonto Books, featuring musings from the publishing world and some occasional special guest appearances.

Monday, October 09, 2006

The hard sell

When Stu and I started Tonto Press we reckoned that between us we had just about all the skills necessary to run a successful publishing company - except one: neither of us had any experience of selling. Although we both had a lot of experience of marketing our own books, we'd never actually had to go out to wholesalers and retailers and get them to stock the things. So we've had to learn it from scratch, which hasn't been easy given the oddly secretive nature of the publishing industry. (Try ringing Tesco head office and asking to speak to a member of the book buying team. It's a secret society worthy of a Dan Brown novel.)

We actually put out a book I had written, The Unofficial Football World Championships, to test the water in terms of sales and distribution, and subsequent titles have benefitted from that. We've had some success, getting our books stocked by the UK's largest wholesaler, becoming a Waterstone's 'approved retailer', and also being stocked, at least regionally, by Asda, Blackwell's, Bookworld, Borders, Fenwick, HMV, and in independent stores. But we've also come up against a fair few brick walls, most notably at one of the country's biggest bookseller, WHSmith. We've had three laughable encounters with that chain's local book buyers which left us (and, to be fair, WHSmith head office) extremely frustrated. The full details of the encounters are probably best left for another time, but the crux of the problem was that none of the local book buyers knew how to use Smith's ordering system, even though it had been in use for some months. So unfortunately our books aren't currently stocked by WHSmith, although we live in hope. I imagine if we coughed up the £50,000 Smiths are demanding from publishers to place books on their Christmas recommended list we'd have had more luck. Unfortunately, that seems to be indicative of the incentive-based road that many retailers are heading down.

Of course our books can be ordered from Smiths, or any 'bricks and mortar' store, but we'd much rather see them on the shelves. Online sales are much easier to navigate. Amazon in particular is a level playing field for publishers - they don't really care if you're HarperCollins or Tonto Press as long as your book sells.

What all of this is leading up to is that we've just sent our new Autumn / Winter catalogue out to just about every major bookshop in the country. You can see a PDF of it here. As a folded leaflet it doesn't quite compare to an Argos catalogue, but we think it looks pretty good thanks to the use of Garen Ewing's Burglar's Dog artwork. Let us know what you think.


skint writer said...

good luck with the sales effort - I'm just starting down that road myself, Let us know how it goes please

Ben said...

It was a dark day when I first discovered that book shops charge publishers money to get their titles into prominent displays and put forward as "recommended" reads (recommended my arse - doubt they're even read, as long as the readies are to hand...). As you say, it hardly makes it a level playing field for the likes of yourselves - which just makes the internet and Amazon all the more appealing. It's things like this (both in terms of book shops and music shops) that make me think the end of real shops you can walk into wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing.

Incidentally, you might perhaps be interested in this (very long) blog post about the bookselling business written by someone who used to work in Waterstones, and in the comments which follow it:

Ben said...

Sorry, I'll repost that link properly - here it is.