Sales Brought to Book

By Bidlake, Suzanne | Marketing, April 25, 1991 | Go to article overview

Sales Brought to Book


Bidlake, Suzanne, Marketing


Sales brought to book

Only a few streets separate London bookshops Foyles and Dillons, yet the philosophical divide between them is enormous, writes Suzanne Bidlake An old man regaling stories of drunken orgies over lunch may not be your idea of a marketing coup. But for Foyles, the monthly Literary Luncheon -- the 583rd of which provided the stage for Sir Kingsley Amis's remembrances last month -- is much much more than that. It is its entire marketing programme. Yet the world's largest bookshop maintains that it is profitable, always busy and receives thank you letters from visitors worldwide. "We have no marketing budget at all," says assistant store manager Steven Boal. Eighty-year old owner "Miss Christina" Foyle and the directors "feel we are already sufficiently high profile for it not to be necessary".

In an industry on the brink of swift and dramatic change, it's a stance likely to be met with sneers of disdain from competitors.

Change has long been resisted in this cosy world, where the Net Book Agreement (NBA) has prevented cut-throat price wars for over 30 years and VAT has never been applied. As for marketing to the consumer -- most, as if abiding by the library rule -- keep virtually silent. Total seller/ publisher/ book club ad spend in 1989, according to MEAL, was a paltry 18.7m [pounds].

"Book shopping should be marketed as a leisure activity," says Julian Rivers, marketing director of the Dillons Bookstore Group. "It needs marketing for excitement and discovery."

His group, part of Pentos which consists of Dillons, Athena Bookshops, Hatchards, Claude Gill and the Irish Hodges Figgis and holds an 11% market share, is the most aggressive marketer in the business. "We are crusaders trying to widen the market," claims Pentos chairman Terry Maher. "But we're marketing with one hand tied behind our back," says Rivers.

The main restriction, in their view, is the ban on price promotion, which they say prevents them employing common marketing tactics open to other types of retailer.

Books are "grossly under-marketed" by both booksellers and publishers, Rivers believes. Publishers market to the trade rather than the consumer, and retailers regard book shopping as an elitist activity not to be indulged in by "ordinary" people, he says. Indeed, 27% of the adult population account for 75% of all books sold, buying more than 16 each a year.

Sales of books currently account for only 0.5% of total UK consumer expenditure (around 65,000 titles are published each year). In the US, where stores stay open longer hours, books cost half the price and browsing is more of a leisure pursuit, twice as many people pro-rata buy books than in the UK.

"I put that totally down to marketing having an impact on a culture, which breaks down elitism," says Rivers. He predicts that the proportion spent on books in the UK could double within five years. "We have evidence that professional marketing does sell books, period," adds Maher.

The group spends 1.5% of its 120m [pounds] turnover on regional TV advertising and has put 30m [pounds] into design since 1986. It sells some 500,000 books each week, collectively worth 2m [pounds], from stores which typically hold 50 to 60,000 titles.

The contrast with Foyles could not be more stark. …

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