Manuscript Found in Accra – Lebenon bookshop
Manuscript Found in Accra – No 1 Barnes & Noble
When a best seller is released, it is not only eagerly anticipated by readers, it is equally eagerly awaited by booksellers who see the opportunity to shift a few books.
Manuscript Found in Accra has proved to be a best seller across Europe. It has been met with critical acclaim, the rare exception a pathetic infantile review in the Gruaniad by a failed writer.
Knowing this the behaviour of failing High Street chain WHSmith can only be see as perverse.
Waterstone’s and a few indie bookshops jumped the gun and had Manuscript Found in Accra on display, on sale, before publication date.
As it was already on sale I enquired in WHSmith in Aldershot. I did not expect much joy and I was not disappointed. They had not a clue what I was talking about. They suggested I try again the next day, publication day.
This I did, Thursday 28 April 2013 I walked into WHSmith in Aldershot not expecting to do much better than the previous day. To my pleasant surprise, not only did they have a copy, to be exact two copies, it was on offer at half price and at No 28 in their hardback charts.
I asked was this all they had, two copies? No, they had three copies, the manager went off in search and found a third copy.
I took two, leaving the third on prominent display. I also expressed my surprise to the manager, that they have an international best seller at half price on day of publication and all they have is three copies. I suggested he ordered more.
For the two copies I bought, I was insulted by being given a voucher for McDonald’s.
What I did not notice until later, I had been given a voucher for 20% off on further purchases. Why did they not tell me this before I bought two books? I could have bought one book, then got the other one at a further 20% off, or maybe made some trivial purchase, bought a few envelopes, then got a further 20% off.
Two days later (Saturday 30 March 2013), WHSmith in Farnham, two copies of Manuscript Found in Accra, half price, plus 20% discount with my till voucher. I take both copies, I am given another till voucher giving 20% off. I ask why only two copies in stock? I draw a blank.
After the weekend, Tuesday 2 April 2013, I buy the one and only copy of Manuscript Found in Accra in WHSmith Aldershot. Why only one copy, why have they not restocked? Again I draw a blank.
Tuesday 2 April 2013, Manuscript Found in Accra is published in the US. It shoots straight to No 1 in Barnes & Noble (biggest book chain in US).
Thursday 4 April 2013, one week on from publication, I try WHSmith in Aldershot. Not a single copy. An international best seller, that has shot straight to No 1 in Barnes & Noble and they have not a single copy! I ask why no copies in stock? They tell me they only get deliveries on a Thursday. Today is Thursday! And, have any copies come in? They do not know as they have not looked. When was the delivery? Morning. It is now late afternoon. I asked does their computer system not tell then what has been delivered. Apparently not. I walk out of the shop in disgust.
Thursday 4 April 2013, WHSmith Lincoln. Two copies in store.
Friday 4 April 2013, I try WHSmith Aldershot again. Maybe they have got off their backsides and unpacked their delivery. No copies of Manuscript Found in Accra have been delivered. An international best seller, that they have at half price, but they do not bother to restock their shelves when it sells out and customers are asking for it.
This time I get a girl who seems in possession of a brain, a small miracle for WHSmith. She offers to check nearby stores. Same story, one or two copies, Guildford is the exception they have six copies. I decide to try WHSmith in Farnham the next day, which allegedly has one copy.
Saturday 5 April 2013, I find one copy of Manuscript Found in Accra in WHSmith in Farnham. Or to be exact, I cannot find, I ask, they do not have a clue what I am talking about, they check their system, then show me where it can be found. I speak with the manager and ask is this all they have? She scans the book and says no, we have eight. I query this, as only the day before I was told they had one, and one is all I can see. She tells me they had a delivery that day. Where are they then? No one has bothered to unpack the delivery and put on the shelves. I ask why a book that is an international best seller, that is No 1 in Barnes & Noble in the US (I explain what Barnes & Noble is), is not out and on the shelves. She points to its position in their charts at No 28 and says it is a book that is not selling. I look at her in disgust, and say maybe that has something to do with not having stocks available. She tries to tell me they are a successful High Street chain. I walk out of the store in disgust. But not befpre buying their one and only copy. I am agiven a till voucher for 20% off ink for inkjet printers. Why, I query, what use is it when I have a till voucher (which I have just used) that gives me 20% of everything?
Monday 8 April 2013, WHSmith Godalming. One copy on the shelves. I ask. They do not have a clue what I am talking about. They check their system, and confirm, one copy. I ask when they will have more in. They do not know. They do though advise me that prices change on a Wednesday, and warn me may no longer be available at half price.
Tuesday 9 April 2013, WHSmith Aldershot. No still no copies. Deliveries on Thursday. No, they do not know what the delivery will contain. They suggest I order a copy. And how long will this take? One week. They advise I buy a copy on the internet. I ask will it be half price, how do I uses a 20% discount till voucher? I draw a blank. I say it will be quicker to go to Guildford.
Wednesday 10 April 2013, I try WHSmith website. Not half price, nearly a pound more than Amazon. Why would anyone order on-line from WHSmith?
Thursday 11 April 2013, WHSmith Aldershot, delivery day. No, they do not have Manuscript Found in Accra. This is the second delivery where they have failed to restock with an international best seller, that they do not have in store. They check other stores, I have to ask, they do not offer. Each would appear to have several copies, a marked improvement on when they checked last Friday. Maybe the message is getting through. I bought a local newspaper, 70p, I was given a till voucher that gave me £5 off a purchase over £12. Thus if in stock, but were not, I would have got £5 off two copies of Manuscript Found in Accra at half price, considerably better than my other till voucher giving 20% off. WHSmith must have very serious cash flow problems. This is fire sale prices when a chain is in liquidation.
Whilst in Aldershot, I decide to try Aldershot Library. No we do not have. Yes, it is on order but it will be six months before it is on the shelves, and we will not have a copy. Why six months? Cataloguing. I point out it is an international best seller, to be told that is my opinion! Err no, an international best seller across Europe, published last week in US and shot straight to No 1. Library staff not a clue Paulo Coelho. Not a reaction I would get in Guildford Library, but then this is Aldershot.
WHSmith appear to employ staff who are Asda rejects, with notable rare exceptions (it would be unfair to tar all WHSmith staff with the same brush). Their shops are shabby (like walking into a pound shop).
If you work in a bookshop, it is reasonable to assume know something about books, know about authors, know when new releases are coming out. But it would appear not.
If your are employing people in a bookshop it would seem obvious at the very least to brief them on new releases. It would appear not.
If you are running a bookshop chain, it would make good businesses sense to have best sellers on prominent display, especially if at a substantial discount. It would appear not.
It is difficult to comprehend how a business can perform this badly and remain in businesses. We have seen Jessops, Blockbuster, Comet, HMV and others go spectacularly bust. WHSmith cannot be far behind. If I held shares in WHSmith, and I am pleased to say I do not, I would be on the phone to my stockbroker with strict instructions to sell.
It is easy to see why people turn to Amazon, which now controls just under 50% of the book trade in the UK. It not price that forces people to buy from Amazon, though that clearly plays a part, it is lack of service. If you cannot get service from a High Street shop, if the staff are ignorant about what they sell, then why take the trouble of visiting such stores, when you can buy at a lower price from Amazon?
How then has Waterstone’s fared? The two bookshops I have visited, both small bookshops with knowledgeable staff, in Farnham and Godalming, had Manuscript Found in Accra on prominent display with new books as you walked in the store. Both stores had three copies. But this may not be typical. Lincoln and Bromley, both large stores, had single copy of Manuscript Found in Accra shelved with other Paulo Coelho books, it was not on display. And a newsletter from Waterstone’s, recommended April reading, astonishingly has no mention of Manuscript Found in Accra.
For service we have to look to the few remaining indie bookshops.
I learnt from a friend Manuscript Found in Accra was available ahead of publication date, as she had a call from her local indie bookshop, Beckenham Bookshop, telling her a copy was in awaiting her collection. I then checked with Waterstone’s Farnham, for them to say yes, they had out on display and had it for about a week. They had decided to put it out, as the publisher had not embargoed (which is unusual).
I let my friend know about special limited editions of both The Pilgrimage and The Alchemist. Beckenham Books was able to get these hard to find books within days (sooner than I had a delivery from Amazon) and again she had a call to let her know they were in.
Another indie bookshop I would recommend is P&G Wells, hidden down the back streets in Winchester, behind Winchester Cathedral.