Category Archives: Publishing Industry Insight

How can I help?

One of the really interesting things that constantly came up in last week’s celebration of Independent Bookseller’s Week was the wonderful depth of knowledge and care that so many booksellers show.

And this got me thinking about customer service in general, especially in the context of a recent event put on by Flamingo called “The Future of Shopping.” The researchers at Flamingo studied how the decline of the high street affected real shoppers, and also how real people shop — both online and offline. What they discovered was no surprise to me. Bricks and mortar shops cannot just be suppliers of goods anymore — they need to give people a reason to come in. As the Flamingo study said, ” The future strategy for the high street is clear: become a retail destination or turn those empty retail spaces into something more useful…”

A critical part of becoming a “retail destination” is customer service — a somewhat rarely-assumed part of the customer experience here in the UK. The general lack of good customer service in the UK came as a shock to me when I first moved here. And what’s even more shocking, is that people are actually really bothered when they get bad customer service, but then they don’t seem to do anything about it. Why. WHY? I just don’t get it. So, I sat down with Sarah B, who is also frequently appalled by bad customer service, to ask her about this curious aspect of British culture.

AO: Sarah, as a UK citizen, can you please explain to me why there isn’t an over-arching expectation of good customer service?

SB: I don’t think there isn’t, but I think that our expectations are lower than they are in the US. I certainly recognise that every time I go to the States, I remember how pleasant the shopping experience can be.

I do think it’s a sensibility thing too, I know lots of people that find people offering them help offensive.

AO: Really? Why?

SB: Because of the natural British way of keeping things to yourself, a lot of people don’t like interacting with people while shopping.

I suppose that once you’ve experienced great service in that kind of environment, you start to appreciate what’s possible in a shopping experience.

AO: What do you mean by pleasant? Is there something about American shop service that sticks out for you?

SB: Politeness! A proactiveness. I find that in many UK shops, only if you’re confident enough to ask do you get service. In America, they are absolutely there to help you the moment you walk in the door, and this country, they’re hoping that you don’t ask.

AO: OMG, that’s how I feel too! I do feel like sometimes when I walk into giant chain stores, they are extremely put-out if I ask where something is. Which is weird, because I want to spend money in their shop. And that somehow doesn’t enter the equation. Why is that?

SB: I think it’s all down to what that staff thinks they’re there to do — at a lot of big stores, they don’t treat staff very well, they are just there to stack shelves and take money. The staff don’t have a share in their store’s success. They are not invested in going over and above their job description.

AO: But OK, so my question is, that in the standard job description for a cashier, let’s say, don’t you think provide excellent customer service generally included?

SB: Certainly was where I worked. I worked in a small, family-run department store as an assistant on the perfume counter. We had really strict standards of customer care. One of the main things I remember is not being allowed to talk to my colleagues if there was a customer in sight. We also were trained to engage with the customer and know our regular customers by name.

AO: About how often would you say you receive good customer service? And along those lines, when you receive good customer service, do you revisit those places?

SB: I would say about 20 percent of the time, to the extent that when I receive good customer service, I am over the moon about it. I’m generally quite loyal to the places which give me good customer service, so every time I go to those places I would be very surprised if I didn’t have a good experience.

AO: Share please! Where are you finding this wonderful experience in London?

SB: I have been quite lucky in that I used to live in Stoke Newington, which is a hive of small, independent retailers and restaurants. It’s such a competitive environment and there’s so much choice in terms of restaurants that service is something that sets people apart. There was an absolutely fantastic butchers and green grocers that I really miss now that I am no longer in the area. A Saturday walking down the high street was a generally lovely experience because there was such an interesting and diverse mix of retailers. And that’s something that’s quite hard to find these days. Shopping is no longer about browsing, but getting what you need and getting home as quickly as possible.

Even though I no longer live close to Church Street, I have already found a new favourite place in my new neighborhood. It’s a place called Coffee7, where they are a real community focused coffee shop. They have this program called Suspended Coffee where you can buy a cup for yourself and one for someone else who can’t afford a coffee. The staff are lovely. The first time I went in there, the woman behind the counter just struck up a conversation with me about the area.

On a bigger retailer scale, I’m a huge John Lewis convert. I just feel like they generally do everything they can to help you in-store and online to help you get what you need. And that leads to continued, repeat purchasing.

AO: What does good customer service look like to you?

SB: Being helpful, I’m quite an impatient shopper now, and I quite like to be able to ask someone if they have something rather than having to wander around. And I would expect that person to know or to be able to find it. Otherwise, I might as well order it online. What I’m looking for is, “We don’t have that, but we have this instead…”

When you are looking in a larger chain store, and if they don’t have something, they used to call another branch to find it. That seems to happen less and less these days. Office shoes is actually good at this — they can look up sizes and styles in any store (or you can do it yourself online).

AO: Thanks Sarah!


Following on from our celebration of wonderful Independent Booksellers and motivated by our love for good customer service, we are launching a week of blogs devoted to shops in our area that are doing it right. We’re calling this week LOVE YOUR LOCAL WEEK. All week long, we’re going to be talking about the shops in our area that we love, and that love us back. At the end of the week, we’ll post a map of all the shops we mention so you can go visit too.

And we want to hear from you! Does customer service matter to you? Are you more inclined to buy things in bricks-and-mortar stores which provide you good customer service? Where have you received excellent customer service (please tell us, we want to visit!)?

Happy and Sad – a job opening at Hot Key & Red Lemon

On Thursday, I was speaking at the Innovation Workshop (great round up here) and our wonderful Digital Coordinator, Amy Orringer, had come to support me. I think she had the tweet of the day:

Futurebook Innovation Workshop tweet
After my session, she dropped a bombshell – she was moving back to the US and leaving us! I think I must have looked like a fish for a few minutes, not knowing what to say. I’m really happy for Amy but sad that we’ll be losing such a talented and driven woman from our team.

So I am happy and sad to say that we have an exciting opportunity to bring a new energy and a new voice to our digital team. Could it be you? (I hope it is!)

Here are some of the things your predecessor has done:

– The enhanced ebook for The Quietness by Alison Rattle (highlights video here
– A soft toy dance party, among other stop motion delights: (here)
– Commissioned The Bookshop Band to write a song for Dawn O’Porter’s book (here)

In fact, in her own style and because she is awesome, Amy has done us a video job opportunity advert:

We are looking for someone like Amy who:
–          is utterly passionate about children’s books
–          has a positive, willing attitude with a determination to create awesome things, a get-it-done kind of person
–          has an eye for detail and a commitment to precision
–          who can showcase a variety of interesting online projects/profiles
–          not necessarily from a publishing background (the publishing stuff is easy to learn)
–          not necessarily proficient in software/coding, but a good base knowledge and a digital curiosity which means you’re driven to self-learn

Here is the full job description with application instructions: Digital Coordinator Job Desc

You’ll be working 50/50 between the editorial department under myself and the marketing department under Sarah Benton. You can read about publishing from our points of view all over this blog, and get a sense about how we work if you look at the projects we’ve built over the past year and a half.

If you’re interested, please read the job description and application instructions carefully. Eye for detail, and all of that.

Hope to hear from you soon!

Of wrestling trolls and faces of the moon…

Last year, our first Bologna, we had five books to sell on the international rights front – not bad for a launch list of nine. It was exhilarating, scary, sobering, surprising – and enormous fun.  And now here we were again, one year on, with our shelves stacked with real finished books and with a few prizes and rights sales too.

What happened in the interim?  Let’s take MAGGOT MOON.  We reckoned we had a bit of a winner there, but markets can be fickle (and the mood was pretty cautious) so you can never be quite sure.  That’s one of the thrills of the business – no two books work in the same way.  It’s a statement of the obvious, I know, but it makes life challenging and just a little bit dangerous.  The fair just reminds you of the amazing diversity of tastes (sometimes surprising, sometimes downright confounding), of ways of publishing, of national and cultural conventions.

MAGGOT MOON went down brilliantly at that first fair and has now sold in seventeen countries (it’s only the beginning) and has been published in three so far.  So, in seventeen places, the book has been similarly appreciated, loved and bought but just take a look at the jackets and differences immediately emerge.

Our edition

Our edition

The American edition

The American edition

American booksellers are colour-prejudiced – they abhor white jackets – so for the US edition our image has been cast on a cool shade of midnight blue.  In both the Italian and Spanish editions the title has changed (it is a bit of a difficult one) so it becomes THE THREE FACES OF THE MOON and STANDISH’S PLANET.  Take a look at the treatment – graphic and photographic – reflecting what the publisher feels will make it work in the local market.  Of course if you were to give the book to a handful of UK publishers you would get as many and various jackets but with translation you have the originating publisher’s vision first and foremost – to reject, accept or adapt.  I can’t wait to see the Chinese, Japanese and Thai versions…

The Italian edition

The Italian edition

The Spanish edition

The Spanish edition

Interestingly the book has sold in southern European countries, the far east too, but NOT in Scandinavia.  It’s just a matter of time but it’s still curious – is it because of the subject, the politics, the genre, the state of the market, the fact that there are more books being published by local authors at the moment?  Hmmmmm.  I’ll let you know.

When we’re offering for a book, we consider what we think we can sell in translation, and it’s tricky.  Say we have a book on wrestling trolls, for instance.  Trolls are from Scandinavia so that should be fertile territory, although one Norwegian editor told me that her publisher absolutely hated trolls.


And what about wrestling? It’s hugely popular in Japan, Korea, the USA and of course Turkey where oil wrestling (when the participants are covered in olive oil…) is a national sport, but in Japan they are not so fond of huge hairy trolls (Moomintrolls are quite another matter).  There again the combination of the two is perhaps more than the sum of its parts. Basically, there is no science in this, no easy formula that can be worked out with a bit of research on google.  All I can say is that the mood of the fair was definitely receptive to the idea of wrestling trolls.  Hooray!  It’s all about the magic of the writing and the spell it casts over the reader.  And that’s the thrill of a book fair.  There’s nothing quite like seeing that glimmer in an editor’s eye – the excitement of a new idea, a challenging concept… a wrestling troll.

Visual Inspiration in Bologna

There’s a LOT to look at in Bologna. Giant glowing versions of book covers line walkways, book-covered shelves form the walls of each booth, signs dangle from the ceiling. Amidst all of this visual stimuli, our Art Director Jet found some visually stunning covers and artwork both at the fair and in Bologna bookshops!

Outside the main exhibition hall, there was a gallery of art by carefully selected children’s illustrators on display. Here are a few of Jet’s favourites:


By seesaw, Japan.


By Ha Yeon Jung, Korea.


Felt characters by Holman and Jack Wang, Canada.


By Violeta Lopiz, Spain.

And some special bookshop finds:





Bologna 2013: Thinking about design…

Spotted: This stunning Brazilian cover

Spotted: This stunning Brazilian cover

Bologna Book Fair is a wonderful showcase of beautiful design. From Pre-School and Board Books up to New Adult, the books here are presented to showcase the best work of their publishers.

There are classics like the Miffy books for babies and toddlers, rubbing shoulders with new and challenging jackets for young adults like Asylum by Madeleine Roux to be published by HarperCollins.

Classic iconic design

Classic iconic design


Prepare to be lost in…

And along the way wonderful examples of design that mark out their publishers as brave and innovative.

The Big Picture list to be published by our sister company Templar was the talk of the fair with one French publisher telling me that it was one of only two things she had seen during the week that really excited her. Great praise from Gallimard.

Beautiful picture books coming soon from Big Picture Press

Beautiful picture books coming soon from Big Picture Press

Tara Books from India won the prestigious Bologna Prize – Best Publisher of the Year for Asia.  Up against stiff competition, notably Kalimat in UAE, they were triumphant because of their stunningly beautiful books and their international reputation built by the hugely talented Gita Wolf. Their books are available all over world and are consequently treasured by readers everywhere.

Beautiful Tara Books

Beautiful Tara Books

It is never too late to learn and after four days of looking at other people’s inspired and thoughtful designs you realize that we have to absorb ideas and influences from around the world. Not only from wonderful books but art, product design, shop signs, graffiti … The list can go on and on.

Bologna is a place which allows you to really open your eyes to different cultural approaches to visual representation. I know I am going to try to keep my eyes open.

Bowling, group love-ins and metadata…

Last Thursday and Friday, a bunch of us went down to Chelsea Harbour for a Bonnier Group Love-in, including food, presentations and bowling, officially known as the Bonnier Manager’s Conference. This is an annual event where all the publishers in the Bonnier Publishing group get together and we all get an update on what our lovely sisters are doing.

And then we all lose all that sisterly love, just like in a real family, and battle it out on the bowling alley in the evening. Hot Key Bowling Report: Sarah Odedina is actually a secret bowling star, Emily Thomas wins the most enthusiastic member of the team ever and Jet Purdie was the one that actually scored most of our points (who isn’t surprised by that?). It all got a little serious at points I must say. For instance Autumn publishing took things VERY seriously:

Things got serious(ly competitive)

Things got serious(ly competitive)

But anyway, I digress. Being part of a group like Bonnier Publishing is great. Firstly – nobody takes themselves too seriously, and everyone is very approachable. Nobody is corporate. For instance – which other CEO would let themselves be caricatured and put right there on the website?

The Bonnier Publishing CEO Richard Johnson reading CEO for Dummies.

The Bonnier Publishing CEO Richard Johnson reading CEO for Dummies.

It also means though we have strength in numbers – we can share some functions like having a group sales and accounts team – but then also each company is decentralized which means we all have full editorial control and each have our own identities. Look out for our sister companies blog takeover in a few weeks time where you can get to know them all a bit better.

I was given the unenviable task of task of talking to the group about metadata. SAY WHAT NOW? I hear you ask. Well…metadata is how people find our books online, so it is mega important. But only to a data-geek I hear you say? Well here’s how I convinced people otherwise with a little video conversation…with a little help from

What can I say, apart from after that, metadata was certainly the word of the conference!

Staying ahead of the game

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to go to New York for the Tools of Change for Publishing conference – a summit about new technologies and business models relevant to help us publishing folk move forward. It’s a brain-melting three days where you spend your whole time going ‘ooh, ooh, that’s so cool’ and wishing you had infinite time/money/skills to do EVERYTHING.

Obviously, I can’t wrap up three days in one short Friday blog post, so I won’t, but I wanted to highlight a few particularly cool projects, people and companies I saw.

Paperight – this great project turns photocopy shops in developing countries into legal bookshops, so that many more people in villages and towns can have access to text. See more here!  is new way of reading comics online where the pages come alive on the screen – check it out!


—- – this is a great project getting ereaders into the hands of kids that need access to stories the most. Get involved!

And finally, this was shown as the keynote for the first day to make us all laugh –  let’s hope we don’t forget how to use the traditional paper book ;)

This is of course only a TINY SNAPSHOT of the amazing speakers that were at TOC – you can take a look at some of the other Keynote speakers and stay in touch with their blog and community site here.

(And if you ever get the chance to go – don’t hesitate!)