Though the Bookseller’s feature on head book buyer Steph Bateson ran a few days ago, it’s still very much worth repeating. For how did a 30 year old PhD candidate become one of the biggest players in the UK publishing world? Answer: by joining up with the supermarket chain Asda on a whim and rising through the ranks.
She saw the books buying position advertised internally when Toby Bourne, now at Waterstone’s, was promoted to buying manager of books, news and magazines. “I loved reading”–Paul Auster and Michael Connelly are among her favourite authors–“so I thought I could combine my interests with my job. I was lucky to get it.” There was much to learn. “The books sector is very different from other industries that Asda works with. But Asda needs books to be supplied like every other product in terms of service levels and our distribution framework. So understanding that balance was a challenge. It is still a frustration that books are not simply coming into our depot from publishers when and how we want them, so that we can get them on shelves.”
Bateson is quite open about how Asda fares next to its main competitors, Sainsbury’s and Tesco. “Tesco’s point of sale is brilliant. Sainsbury’s have made good progress this year. W H Smith has too many offers. What we do really well is seizing on new releases, and we are the driving force on price–some publishers don’t like that and some do.” But the changing price points bother her. “I have been asking publishers why a chick lit or crime book is 7.99, and it is because they can get away with it for a brand author. But 99% of the books that are 7.99 we can do without. They are cheating the customer, who is paying a different price for similar books.”