The Times obtained a confidential memo from Waterstone’s which sets out what it expects publishers to pay if they want their books to be well promoted in its network of more than 300 stores this Christmas. The most expensive package, available for only six books and designed to “maximise the potential of the biggest titles for Christmas”, costs 45,000 pounds per title. The next category down offers prominent display spots at the front of each branch to about 45 new books for 25,000 pounds. Inclusion on the Paperbacks of the Year list costs up to 7,000 pounds for each book, while an entry in Waterstone’s Gift Guide, with a book review, is a relative snip at 500 pounds. Similar packages are available at other bookshop and supermarket chains, too.
Anthony Cheetham, the chairman of Quercus books, a small independent publisher, said: “It’s not a system you can opt out of. If Smith’s offer you one of these slots and you say no, their order doesn’t go down from 1,000 copies to 500 copies. It goes down to 20 copies.” Which is why he’s rather dismayed at having to pay for steep co-op for Costa winner Stef Penney‘s THE TENDERNESS OF WOLVES because it will not make the booksellers’ Christmas selections unless Quercus pays the going rate,
Neil Jewsbury, the commercial director of Waterstone’s, defended the charges and said that the quality of books chosen for books-of-the-year lists and other promotions was not compromised by money changing hands. “Our expert booksellers, with years of experience, decide on what the best books of the last year are,” he said. “It’s only after that that we enter into a confidential commercial agreement with the publishers to decide how best to feature and promote these titles.” Well, it ain’t so confidential anymore, and it remains to be seen whether consumers, er, readers will care about co-op practices. Maybe in another world we’d see a scandal along the lines of the early 1960s payola days, but it’s not exactly the 1960s anymore, now is it?