Exciting New Sales Developments at MM/CVP

Laura finding some of our books in Powell’s World of Books in Portland

Most of our bookshop sales are via specialist stores and campus bookshops, where an interested reader is most likely to be browsing.  We have always managed these accounts in-house, by sending out catalogues, information sheets and book information to the relevant buyers, and they have mostly ticked along without a great deal of internal involvement. High street book sales are rare as very few of our titles would be picked off the shelves by a casual shopper.

This summer we are publishing Speaking Up by Allyson Jule which is a book about language and gender that has mainstream audience unlike most of our publications which are aimed solely at academic researchers. To reach this audience, we need to ensure that the book gets visibility outside of the academic book trade. It is clear that we would not realise the book’s full market potential if we followed our standard marketing and sales procedures for our academic titles. So, from a marketing perspective, we have enlisted the services of an external PR consultant whose experience will get coverage for the book that might not have been possible by our own efforts alone. From a sales perspective, it is obvious that bookshop presence will be key.

This sparked a discussion about whether it would be sensible for us to take on the services of an external sales force, not just for this title but for all our books. This is something that we do in territories abroad, but we have always managed local relationships ourselves. Making the decision about whether to start such a partnership was not an easy one. Obviously, there are costs involved and the work of the reps needs to bring in enough extra sales to cover the expense of working with them. We had to assess whether there was enough of a market out there that we aren’t able to reach ourselves and if we are better outsourcing efforts to target this market rather than trying to reach the readers ourselves.

Spot our books on the shelves in Blackwell's
Spot our books on the shelves in Blackwell’s

On balance we felt that there is more scope for bookshop sales for our books in the UK, especially for books such as those we publish on bilingualism for parents and teachers, and that the benefits had the potential to far outweigh the arguments against. As such, we are excited to now be working with Compass Academic and to make the most of their expertise and experience in the book trade.

Compass Academic is a team of book reps who call on bookshops, library suppliers, wholesalers and internet booksellers, and maintain relationships with all the key bookselling chains. They will now be taking information about our books to their meetings and will be actively promoting them to both existing and new customers on our behalf. The team will be covering a far broader range of booksellers than we could ever manage ourselves and have longstanding relationships with many of their contacts.

Just as importantly as presenting information about our books to booksellers, Compass will also give us regular market feedback on what is happening in the UK trade market in general and news from specific booksellers. This valuable information will help us better plan our publishing program and respond to developments in the industry.

The publication of Speaking Up was certainly the spark that made us take the leap but we are hopeful that the new partnership will benefit all our publications, across both our imprints.

Laura

Meet the rep: Andrew White, The White Partnership

We have a global network of reps in overseas territories who promote our books in areas that we are not often able to travel to ourselves. In this post we hear from Andrew White from The White Partnership who represents us in Malaysia, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore and Taiwan.

Andrew White at a sales meeting in Vietnam
Andrew White at a sales meeting in Vietnam

I have always liked travelling. My first 6 years after university were spent in tourism, as a “tour escort” on bus tours around Europe. But 1991 was a bad year for tourism, the first Gulf War broke out and there was very little work. So I got a job as a “freelance publishing agent’s representative”. I didn’t know what the job entailed when I applied, but it promised 20 weeks per year of European travel. In 1997 I became international sales manager for Edward Arnold, the medical/academic division of Hodder Headline. The majority of my time was spent visiting customers in India and in Asian countries. (I was excited to get the job and have the prospect of visiting new places!)

In 2003 I quit and went freelance myself, setting up The White Partnership, an agency for UK and US publishers, selling to the same customers in Indian and Asian markets I had got to know in the previous 6 years. Twelve years later, and I am still doing it, still enjoying it, and hopefully will continue to do so for many more years.

My earliest portfolio of clients contained only a few medical or STM (Scientific, Technical and Medical) publishers. But over the years I have taken on a wider range of publishers, trade lists, fiction, business books, schools and children’s books. As an agent I cannot limit myself to only one discipline. There are not enough independent publishers left to have the luxury of being a subject specialist. After all, if I am visiting a large bookstore chain like Kinokuniya or National Bookstore, then I may as well try to sell as many products as possible. If I don’t sell anything I don’t get paid.

Most freelance agents follow a set travel cycle, whether they are covering Europe, Africa, the Middle East or Indian/Asian markets. My own schedule normally requires at least 5 big trips a year: Jan or Feb: Delhi/Colombo, March: Hong Kong/Manila/Taipei, (April: London Book Fair), June or July: Delhi/Colombo again, August or September: Seoul/Tokyo, (October: Frankfurt Book Fair), November: Singapore/Kuala Lumpur/Bangkok. I now also add on Jakarta and Ho Chi Minh City. So in total I visit around 10 Asian cities a year, plus Delhi and Colombo. In the past I have visited other Indian cities, especially Mumbai, but Delhi is the publishing and importing hub. I also sell to accounts in Pakistan, but haven’t visited for a number of years now. I used to do so when it was safer. Now I see the booksellers in person at the bookfairs in Delhi, London and Frankfurt and maintain a constant relationship with them via email, text or phone, which is still their preferred medium.

In effect, I am the middle man between the publisher and the customer. It’s my job to present new titles that will be sellable in that particular country, and at a price low enough to be affordable for the customer, but high enough for the publisher to make the sale worthwhile. With the exception of Japan, all the countries I sell to require a big discount off the RRP, because the freight costs to import books thousands of miles are high, and the end customer’s purchasing power in India and Asia is much lower than that of a customer in the Western world. In many countries the end price of an academic text book has to be low enough to persuade a customer to actually buy it and not simply photocopy his friend’s book.

The publishers I work for are all SMEs, without their own office in territory. I have to present new titles, explain why they should be bought (important subject/famous author/great reviews/local interest etc), explain where the books will be distributed and invoiced from, (an importer will always want to do business with established suppliers, it is extra work to import books from a new distributor), agree the terms, and then wait for the official PO (purchase order) to be sent. Gone are the days when I can leave a meeting with orders in my hand. In the 21st century it is all done electronically.

For academic publishers their books are most likely to be bought by an institution, not an individual. The books don’t spend time on sale on a shelf in a bookstore. The librarians, lecturers and heads of department want newly published titles. Once the publication date of a book is more than 2 years old, then it is no longer attractive. Therefore up-to-date information flow into the market is essential, whether through hard copy catalogues or through excel listings.

The White Partnership has enjoyed success thanks to a number of factors. Most important is that I visit my accounts regularly, and therefore keep my publishers fresh in the minds of the importers. Secondly, I provide good new title information, ensuring that catalogues are received and looked at by both bookshops and institutional buyers. Thirdly, and also very importantly, I provide a good service to customers, processing orders, helping out with delivery and invoice issues and assisting with their title queries. If I were to ignore an enquiry from a customer, then he would no longer bother to order books from my publishers. And he would be right to do so…….the customer always is! Lastly, the terms of sale have to be acceptable. Even my best customers whom I’ve known for 20 years or so won’t buy unless they get enough discount to cover their overheads and still make a margin.

I enjoy my work, of course. It’s always a buzz seeing the sights and sniffing the smells of exotic cities! Books are a product, just like baked beans or washing machines, so I have to make sure I sell enough of them to make a living, but the publishing industry is by its nature an interesting “intellectual” business, so there is always something new to be involved with and to sell.

For more information about Andrew’s work please feel free to contact him at andrew@thewhitepartnership.org.uk.