Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Sainsbury's. Chain Bookselling Company of the Year

Last night was the Bookseller Industry Awards. At a glitzy award ceremony (i'm assuming it was glitzy, I wasn't there) Sainsbury's scooped the Bookseller of the Year award.

"Sainsbury's was honoured with the Martina Cole General or Chain Bookselling Company of the Year Award after reinvigorating book zones, increasing book sales by more than 33% and attracting new book buyers to the market. One judge said: "We should celebrate the fact that they are embracing books and offering people an alternative place to buy—somewhere they can spend time browsing as well as buying."
I went into my local Sainsbury's today and after congratulating the person on the cigarettes and lotto counter (six items or less), I asked if they could show me where their books were.
Slightly baffled they said they didn't keep them.
That seemed strange for the winner of Martina Cole General or Chain Bookselling Company of the Year Award, especially after one of the judges says that Sainsbury's is a place that we can spend time browsing.

And I don't know about you, but anyone who uses the phrase reinvigorating book zones deserves a very stern talking to and a wedgie at the very least.

So, Sainsbury's are embracing books are they? Well, it's true to say that some of their branches are selling a small selection of general fiction titles at a ridiculously low price. It is also true that they have sold many many thousands of copies of Jamie Oliver's cookery books. They have nailed it with Jamie. Well, if I had 900 shops and sold Jamie Oliver's books for £2 less than I bought it for then I would probably have sold a few copies too.
They sell books, but this does not make them booksellers.

We have sold local honey in the past (Tottenham honey is delicious), but we don't expect to be acknowledged by The National Honey Association.

I have no problem with anybody selling books, but OUR INDUSTRY has recognised them as the Chain Bookselling Company of the Year. This says a great deal about chain bookshops but it says even more about our industry and where it sees the future of bookselling. And for that, I worry.

20 comments:

Vanessa Robertson said...

Hear, hear. Would say more, but you've summed up everything I've been thinking about this.

about me said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jen Campbell said...

it also fills me with the rage. RAGE.

parrish lantern said...

I could just about go along with chain generic massmarket top 10 bookstore of the year. But this.

Nina Killham said...

I'm gobsmacked. I shop at your local Sainsbury's and I can't really believe that providing a sliver of space between the rows of dvds and computer games is really considered book selling.

Catnip said...

I'm going to say range, RANGE, in the manner of Jen Campbell because Sainsbury's only sell you what is the equivalent of the jelly diamonds you'd put on top of a cake, without offering you the cake.

(I am equating Catnip with the delicious layer of butter-icing you should find in the middle of my metaphorical publishing cake, obviously.)

BucksWriter said...

Ridiculous, and more than a bit soul-destroying.

Barcodezebra said...

I believe the sub-text to this is, "we have given you the power to destroy us, we give you this shiny gift in an attempt to assuage your mighty wrath." To which plea Lord Sainsbury will doubtless reply, "I spurn your tawdry bauble, give me more discounts pathetic book farmer."

See? It's all there.

Katherine Roberts said...

Not surprised - just a bit sad. An award for selling large numbers of books at prices that don't pay their authors a royalty and result in killing the careers of those not "lucky" enough to be stocked, I guess?

HertsReader said...

Sainsbury's are a chain of shops, which happen to sell books, along with other things.

Sure, they aren't a traditional bookshop, but just how many chains of traditional bookstores exist now? And of those, how many of them only sell books, just books, and nothing except for books?

Seems an entirely fair thing to me. They are being recognised selling books in an incredibly narrow market. There's them, and the other supermarkets.

You'd prefer the alternative, a world where the supermarkets don't sell books? Who does that benefit, the readers who now have less choice, or the writers who have a smaller market?

Ali said...

This depresses me dreadfully. Herts Reader, I don't see that Martina Coles or Harlen Coben will be injured terribly by the book buying public not having the opportunity to buy their books alongside their Nescafe and Hovis. In Wood Green people can either pop across the road to the Big Green Bookshop or about 4 doors along to WH Smith to buy them.

Simon Key said...

Thanks for all your comments. RAGE subsiding a little now.
HertsReader, as I said in post, I have no problem with anyone selling books, even Sainsbury's.
My main point was about our industry acknowledging them as the chain bookseller of the year and what that says about our industry.

Helen said...

What I'd like to know (and a short google search would, indeed, tell me) is who exactly was on the panel. Shouldn't they be sacked? Because - like everyone else has said - they're a pretty poor choice. There's got to be something going on there.

Note: I didn't see books in the last Sainsbury's I was in.

Hell, I'd also go further than Simon and suggest that Sainbury's shouldn't be selling books. I do have a problem with people who don't care about the product, selling the product. That's why butchers, booksellers and bike shops exist, right? Because you only want to buy from an expert, from someone who *knows* and *cares* about books. There was something in the bookseller recently about why people buy the books they do. I can't remember the exact figures, but a staggering number of respondents said 'it's not the price of the book that makes my mind up; it's recommendations'.

Alas this appears not to be true of the general population. Does two quid off Jamie *really* appeal to people that much? Wowzers.

Jan Jones said...

Describing Sainsburys as a chain bookseller is horrifying. But perhaps - being cynical - it was simply someone else's turn this year and they were handy?

Guido said...

It is unbelievable. On the other hand it's not. It's to be expected that the industry will cover itself with these sort of things. It is a far removed from what we, passionate readers and book lovers like to see, but unfortunately that's not the case.

It is your outrage, your style, your take on how to sell, and the sort of books you sell that makes your store special, and makes people want to come back. I couldn't give a rats ass about sainsbury's, but we care about you and shops like yours.

Dan Holloway said...

What the "Martina Cole General or Chain Bookselling Company of the Year Award" tells me about the way the industry sees itself is the decreasing esteem given to the role of good editors.

Nicola Morgan said...

Wow. Just utter wow. In a kind of WTF sort of way

Hertsreader - "a world where the supermarkets don't sell books" - well, I have a large Sainsburys that doesn't sell books (as far as I've seen) and frankly I am quite happy with it, as a Sainsburys, but I'm very unhappy with it being honoured for doing something that it patently doesn't do well.

Lynsey Newton said...

I think there needs to be a new word for bookseller or an addendum. Bookseller or person who sells books who also CARES about books.

Mark Thornton said...

What does this say about the book industry? You leave that question hanging. Well, what it says to me is that everyone is now looking past a world with specialist booksellers, and to a supermarkets versus Amazon world. This award IMHO is a some sort of encouragement to Sainsbury's to continue increasing the paltry amount of books that they sell in the hope that someone will be able to compete against Amazon in the years ahead. Utterly depressing, but perhaps not surprising.

Kate Wilson said...

I know that this is a really unpopular point of view, but there were other bookselling prizes that went in the same award ceremony to great indies and individuals. I'm an independent publisher, and I really love specialist booksellers, but the bottom line is that the publishing industry is dependent on supermarket sales, and authors and illustrators benefit too. I was, therefore, prompted to write this post: http://nosycrow.com/blog/looking-back-at-sainsbury-s-winning-general-or-chain-bookseller-of-the-year-award