— blending the mix

Are Waterstones missing the point? Community is where it’s at.



David Brain points to an incredible story in The Times about how, many (if not all) the books we see in Waterstone’s window and “Hot Points” are paid-for places. Paid for by the publishers themselves – up to £45,000 a time.

I was taken aback by what to me is the total deception of the buying public. With Word of Mouth proving to be a successful and growing method of purchasing everything from service to books, I can’t help but feel utterly beytrayed by [tag]Waterstone’s[/tag] approach.

We trust their judgement, we believe that any book that makes it through to the shop window is the best of the recent releases – alas it seems that Publisher A has more money than Publisher B.

Heather neatly sums it up:

“The selling of a recommendation undoubtedly affects the credibility of suggestions by Waterstone’s. If I remember correctly, wasn’t its original brand built on the value of endorsement from staff who were informed about books?”

If this were happening on the internet, [tag]Waterstones[/tag] may as well shut up shop now.

I can’t help thinking it draws parralels to the Wal-Mart blogging “scandal” a couple of years back.

The force-feeding of recommendations caused a riot.

There surely has to be a danger if this story goes viral, that this will affect those online retailers promoting books legitimately – now THEY need to come out and say so. These revelations have the power to undermine a whole industry (or at least one of its significant sales channels).

That said, as David points out:

“I guess, the trade off (and they work on thin margins) is the cash for being front of house vs the extra profit from more sales if they promoted books more likely to be popular”

So where do they go now? How do they stop the rot?

There surely has to be an opportunity for book shops to engage with communities (or focus groups at a push!) by creating book clubs that would review books for them. The end result ends up on display. Engaging with the book-buying community, bringing yourself closer to the customer is surely going to create a more positive brand image as well as providing more consumer insight than a random survey might!

As Heather mentioned (quote above), Waterstones was founded on the premise that the people who worked there were smart, well-read and could offer credible advice on literature of interest.

There’s no getting away from the fact that they probably still are, but how much has this sordid story damaged these people’s credibility? Can we ever trust them to give us a balanced judgement again?

Most retailers struggle to get people to stay in store for any serious length of time. The longer you are in there, the greater the chance that you are going to spend money. In my experience (as a customer) many Waterstone’s customers spend up to an HOUR in store – and tell me a retailer who wouldn’t want people like that in their store (unless you were McDonalds!).

Waterstone’s is in a unique position to engage with people who WANT to be in their presence and who would no doubt feel hurt by being misled.

For me, the best way to re-build this loss of trust is to have them involved, make them a part of the business by giving them a voice. Create a community.

  1. David Brain says: June 21, 20078:43 am

    This is a much better summary of things then my post . . . but I wonder if they are watching or listening? Or do they have their had in their books all the time??

  2. sick and tired waterstone's staff says: June 24, 20074:16 am

    Sorry for the anon, but Waterstone’s crushes dissent from its staff. Just look on the web for yourself for the last poor soul who wrote a blog about the company.They fired him….is that not a little facist? So much for freedom of speech.I currently work for waterstone’s and have done for many years. This bung controversy is nothing new and Waterstone’s have done it for years. Many of us in the company do not like it since we believe books should be sold on merit, not according to which publisher has the deepest pockets. Waterstone’s have had poor results the last few christmas’s and this year they fancy that they can corner the market. Hence the huge sums they are asking publishers to stump up for prominent front of store displays. Bear in mind that they have a good opportunity this Christmas since they have purchased Ottakers and are killing off the competition.The company is also going through a so called ‘harmonisation process’ with regards to staff contracts at the moment. Senior booksellers will now be lumped in with new members of staff and the grading system is being done away with for good. Staff who refuse to sign these new contracts will not be entitled to progress further within the company; will not be entitled to any pay reviews or increases and will receive no annual cost of living increase. Many of us will lose a lot of money if we sign the new contracts and thus we are not signing. This means our futures at Waterstones are no more. The company has made it quite clear that it has utter contempt for its’ shop floor staff. So experienced booksellers are being forced out of the company. Meanwhile managers and directors of the company continue to award themselves outrageous pay increases. I only hope that the book buying public support workers rights, choice and no longer support this corporation. I for one will not be putting up with this corporate facism anymore and many of my colleagues who have been with the company for years will also be voting with their feet, straight out the front door. Waterstone’s hates bad publicity so I encourage fellow Waterstone’s staff to speak their mind on the internet. They have got away with treating staff like crap for too long and it’s about time we spoke out.

  3. […] An incredibly insightful comment on this blog from an existing Waterstone’s employee shed yet more light on the scurilous practices adopted by Waterstone’s – this time behind the scenes. […]

  4. Missing the point? « Hooked on books says: June 25, 20071:29 pm

    […] Check out: Beattie’s Book Blog and Blending The Mix. […]

  5. anon for fear of my job says: April 2, 20089:43 am

    as a waterstone’s employee i agree with everything said here, they are an unscrupulous company with no regard for the employees they abuse on a daily basis. as soon as my contract is finished i intend blowing the whistle on these cold hearted, money munching fools

  6. anon says: June 24, 20083:35 pm

    I work for waterstones, and they are a bunch of bastards, period.

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