All Quiet on the Front of Store Front

It has been, hasn’t it?

At a time of massive publishing mergers, Amazon’s forced disclosure of their UK sales, and a continued reshaping of the retail landscape, you’d think I’d have quite a lot to say.

Which I do – but sadly, not a great deal of time in which to frame it into cogent blog entries. So, my apologies, but I’ve been very busy, and it looks as though I’ll be getting busier.

I’ll continue to throw the odd Tweet into the ether, and I’m sure I’ll have more to say through this forum in due course. I’m speaking at the Galley Club in the Strand next week, which should be interesting.  And, as my other plans come to fruition, I’ll be sure to let you know.

(Reapplies nose to grindstone.)

As ever, thanks for reading – and this Christmas, support your local high street!

50,000 Up

I was pleasantly surprised this morning to click on my WordPress stats and learn that the total number of hits enjoyed by the Front of Store website since inception has now exceeded 50,000.  Given this site’s relatively narrow remit – retail and books account for the great majority of the content – and the absence of large-scale external referrals or any SEO, this is very gratifying.  Front of Store now receives sufficient traffic to attract advertising, and has led to writing commissions with The Bookseller, Publishing Perspectives, Retail Week and others, as well as several interesting consultancy projects.  It’s also provided a reasonable slug of content for an ebook.

And that’s about as self-referential as we need to get – but I thought you might be interested to know a little about who you all are.  WordPress’s excellent “My Stats” service includes an analysis of visitors’ country of origin.

Over the past three months, about 61% of site visits have been from the United Kingdom; 12.5% from the United States, and 2.9% from Australia.  France, Canada, India, Italy and Singapore each account for around 1%, followed by Brazil, Ireland, Spain, the Netherlands, Germany, the Russian Federation, Thailand, New Zealand, the Philippines and Malaysia, all with over half of one per cent.

A further 84 countries are represented, comprising (deep breath):

Albania, Algeria, Andorra, Argentina, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Bahrain, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brunei, Bulgaria, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Ghana, Gibraltar, Greece, Guam, Guatemala, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Iraq, Israel, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Kuwait, Laos, Latvia, Lebanon, Libya, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macao, Macedonia, Malawi, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Moldova, Monaco, Mongolia, Montenegro, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nepal, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Qatar, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Taiwan, Tanzania, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay, Venezuela, and Vietnam.

Thank you to everybody who keeps an eye on this blog; I shall do my best to inform and prompt in the future.


Front of Store – the e-book!

I started writing the Front of Store blog a year ago, as a response to British retailers’ 2010 Christmas trading numbers.  A year later, a new set of results has  been published, another Christmas has been put to bed, and it feels like a sensible time to take stock.

When I created the first entry, I couldn’t be certain what directions my blog would take – I knew I had plenty to say, both about my “home” trade of bookselling, and about the broader world of retail.  And the news stories kept on coming throughout the year – Borders, HMV, Waterstone’s, and more recently Westfield, Tesco and Mary Portas.  Underpinning the bricks and mortar triumphs and travails is the real unavoidable success story of modern retailing – online commerce, digitisation and Amazon.

Ah yes, Amazon.  An inescapable part of everyone’s life now, bringing good things (service and value) to the consumer, while driving a coach-and-horses through established practices in every sector it touches.  Like Apple, Amazon anticipates the future, leaving its competitors to react to its initiatives.  Too often, Amazon’s competitors try to protect their heritage, where instead they should be repurposing their companies for the future.

There came a point last autumn when I looked at the total word count and thought, blimey, I’ve got a book here.  Hence a Front of Store e-book – and, of course, I’m selling it through Kindle Direct Publishing.  Industry estimates suggest that around 1.3m e-readers were bought in the UK over the Christmas period, and of that number, 1.2m were Kindles.

It would therefore be profoundly foolish to début anywhere other than on Kindle.  Naturally, if I have a smash hit on my hands, I’ll make use of other formats – but the effort required to make a Kindle book has been fairly demanding – many evenings of editing and formatting in, and swearing at, Microsoft Word.

The initially published result was below par, so today’s buyers are being offered the second edition; after KDP struggled to translate tables and jpegs into ebook format in the first version, I went back and substituted lists and descriptions.  This probably says more about my book-creating abilities than it does Amazon’s – but it underlines the complexity of creating “real” books, and the relative ease of ebook publishing.

I was talking to a friend last week who spends much of her life on planes and trains, and who loves her Kindle – convenience, accessibility and readability all score high marks with her.  However, she confessed that she struggled to remember what she’d read on the Kindle; by contrast, physical books have a tactile presence that imprints itself on your memory (and thereafter, they sit on your shelves, whispering “remember me?”).

“A Year at Front of Store” is journalism, news and comment as it happens.  I’ve carried out some pretty vigorous editing – excising time-expired pieces, eliminating anything that required colour illustration (or indeed any pictures at all), improving syntax (a bit), and adding in summaries and afterwords in the appropriate places.  I’ve also included pieces that were published elsewhere, and added the full text of my Frankfurt address from October.

What I haven’t done is to apply any Winston Smith editing, so I don’t foresee that Mamut will buy Waterstone’s in June, or that London will riot in August.

There are a number of themes that I’d like to explore for a book “proper”, which will require a shift from journalism to more considered writing.  The retail industry continues to be the most fascinating business arena – fast-moving, unpredictable, unsafe, and undergoing its most fundamental changes since the birth of the supermarkets.

I’d like to give a big hurrah for WordPress, which allows the Front of Store blog to happen, and whose text is relatively easy to shunt into Word, and thence to KDP.  The blog has created opportunities for the Front of Store consultancy, as well as opening up some fascinating opportunities to speak at conferences and to advise behind closed doors.

Finally, thanks for reading.  Readership of Front of Store has been growing exponentially – January’s hit-rate is 30% higher than December, which was 48% higher than November – and so on.  Here’s to an exciting, challenging, ever-changing 2012.

A Year at Front of Store is available in all Amazon Kindle territories – United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy and Spain.  Treat yourself to a copy!

Ground rules

This is a blog about selling books, music etc – long-established physical products with easy-to-digitise content.  It’s about a retail world that has been turned upside-down over the past decade, and that is changing not on annual cycles, but by the week.

The author has spent 30 years selling records, cassettes, CDs, videos, books, newspapers, magazines, audiobooks, DVDs, Blu-Ray… and downloads.  And downloads, in all their multiple forms, have turned the creation and sale of all this physical stuff into so many bits and bytes.

Most of my experience has been in physical stores, but transactional websites and online data management are familiar territory too.

“Front of store” is where the big sales are made, but no doubt we’ll lose ourselves in the deep backlist from time to time.

There are plenty of places you can go online for the news – the Bookseller, PW, Music Week, Retail Week etc – so this blog will instead offer the views of a retailer and enthusiast, based in London, England.

I think it’s important to start off with some ground rules:

  • This is not a scandal sheet, nor is it a forum for gossip or name-calling.  It is a place for a considered response to the news; for thinking through implications, and for essaying ideas.
  • This is not a nostalgia site.  Of course, there may be cherished memories to be shared from time to time, but they should have some context or contemporary point.
  • The best you’ll get from me is a thought per weekday.  I have other things to do, but I’ll try for a thought a day.  And perhaps we’ll let our hair down on Fridays.
  • Contributions are welcomed.  Just drop me a personal message.

I imagine it will take a short while for me to arrange my topics, and establish a house style of broad avenues and unlikely by-ways.  Bear with me while I settle into WordPress, and let me know what you think.