Margaret Cooper, a bookseller from Bromsgrove, writes:
I was very interested to read David Bennett’s article in May’s Books for Keeps and fairly puffed with pride at the instantly recognisable description of the helpful, committed, responsible ad caring small bookseller whose commercialisation never fails to come second to the Great Task – the uniting of book and child. An encomium entirely justified, of course!
But the heady glow was all but snuffed out when Mr Bennett went on to refer to his ‘lavish enterprises’ involving ‘quantities of books that are more than a small supplier can reasonably be expected to provide’. Does ‘reasonably’ refer to Mr Bennett’s judgement or to that of his ‘dedicated’ local bookseller? Because I must admit I would feel less than happy if sterling small-scale work with a school was all that was expected of me. Most ‘reasonably’ efficient local bookshops would be only too pleased to handle the books for Mr Bennett’s bigger occasions and if I were his ‘obliging’ partner I’d be a bit put out if he didn’t ask.
This does illustrate a point which I’ve noticed before. Some teachers are perhaps not aware of the size of activities carried out by even the small bookseller, of the numbers of books sold – and ordered – each day, of the extent of orders placed by institutions of all sorts, of the level of weekly turnover, of the individual customers who spend £s on books week after week.
I hope I’m not being unfair to Mr Bennett: I’m the last one to ward off appreciation! I only want to put in a plea for using local bookshops to the full. Any bookseller capable of seeing further than the end of his nose should have the commitment to cooperate in the small and worthy venture and the good sense to want to be in on the larger act.
Michael Pountney, Book Merchandise Controller for W.H. Smith, has something to say, too
There aren’t many big chain shops, part of an international group of companies, in Derbyshire, where Mr Bennett lives. and where, presumably, he had his experience of such shops being mean and myopic.
Does he mean us? It might have been more open had he named names.
If he means us, then I think we should be entitled to respond. Does he know, for example, that we do supply, exclusively, school bookshops in over 600 schools’. That we employ two people full time to co-ordinate this activity? That supplies are made from local W.H. Smith shops with the minimum of red-tape:’ That the whole operation makes us very little profit -10% is a critical discount when set against the enormously high costs of High Street trading – and that we operate the scheme precisely because we do recognise the social values of doing so.
But there is a commercial reality. His proposition isn’t too exciting. He will give all his regular business to his local independent bookseller and come to the big chain shop when his requirement outstrips his local shop’s capacity. Why doesn’t he offer us all the business’ If we can supply the big orders, we can certainly supply the small ones, and the agent’s discount is the same from us as from anyone else. Is he being fair?
(For the record, David Bennett’s experience of Big Booksellers did not relate to W.H. Smith. Ed.)
Have you anything to add? What sort of service do you get from your supplier, big or small, for bookshop or book fair?