The academic bookseller’s point of view

Martin Seeley, the general manager of Waterstones Gower Street, gave this presentation.  He said that to remain vibrant, the academic bookshop needs to embrace the digital age fully and it can only do so by providing a full range of physical and digital resources to its customers.  To do this effectively, it needs the help of the publishing industry. His perception was that academic booksellers have the following problems to address:

  • Each year it has become progressively harder to sell core textbooks en masse in the crucial ‘back to university’ period.    
  • The rise of Amazon has undercut the physical bookshop and reshaped students’ expectations on price. 
  • The second-hand textbook market has grown ever stronger: a growth made possible in part by the rise of the web – eBay, Amazon Market Place, etc. 
  • There have been changes in how students wish to consume information.  There has been a sharp shift from the dominance of the physical book to the gradual taking-over of online course notes, electronic journals and the almost universal access today’s student now has to laptops, tablets and smartphones. 
  • There is increased competition for the student’s discretionary expenditure, exacerbated by the introduction of tuition fees. 

However, Martin said that he felt that the most crucial reason behind academic booksellers’ difficulties was that, “we as an industry (publishers and booksellers alike) have been guilty of too many years of taking our market for granted and failing to respond in a coordinated manner to the changes in that market. This is why in bookshops we are failing in some cases to achieve a sell-through rate of more than 25% of recommended core textbooks”.

The academic bookshop of the future should become a repository of physical and digital resources that offers its customer real choice across all formats. The publishing industry should recognise that it needs physical outlets in which to showcase its product: both physical and digital.