Wednesday, May 10, 2006

A certain bookstore online

A certain bookchain, the one we don't like to mention round here anymore, was in the Financial Times today where it announced that W**terstone's were breaking away from their relationship with Amazon and launching their own webstore. Actually this is incorrect - they aren't launching their own webstore, they are re-launching; they had a very good webstore before some idiot axed it and decided to basically have an Amazon store with the 'W' brand over it (with Amazon taking a cut), although perhaps that homogenous look was well suited to how the business was then going. The original webstore was quite good and even had features such as a cool SF&F mag - I used to contribute a large number of reviews to it every month as did other expert booksellers, but some head honcho decided to basically cut a deal with Amazon, because obviously that is how you get ahead in business, by handing some to your rival... Duhhhh.

I wonder how many sales were lost over the years due to that foolish decision, how much it eroded the company's brand online and how much money and time will now need to be expended to get back to where they were several years before some numpty made that stupid mistake (somehow I'm guessing the folks who made that decision retained their jobs unlike me and their huge 'performance-related' salaries they were paid for making them - you all know performance related, its what the big cheeses at large companies use as justification when they double their salary but pay the workers some measely 2 or 3% rise).

However silly the whole mess is, it isn't really my concern anymore of course, but oh how could I resist the rest of the FT article which said:

"The new website will embrace employee blogging, a dramatic reversal for the company that emerged last year as the first British company to sack an employee for blogging.

Joe Gordon, 37, who worked for Waterstone's in Edinburgh for 11 years, was dismissed for personal commentary regarding his day-to-day life at the bookstore on his blog.

However, Mr Giles said HMV's new digital approach would not extend to rehiring Mr Gordon."

Oh, mighty Mr Giles, how you wound my poor, tender feelings to the quick! Seriously, a point of information for Alan G (who did award himself a doubled salary one year when I worked there while staff were told the low rise in their already poor wages were the best they could expect. Yes, I remember that Alan - you said it was performance related, but how many books did you sell that year? I sold a lot and so did my colleagues in the stores but we didn't get a huge increase): for starters, I am not surprised you are no rehiring me, although in the interests of accuracy I have to point out that after the successful appeal against the disgraceful way I was treated last year W**erstone's did actually offer me my job back, but I declined it as I had been offered a better one by FPI.

Secondly if you hadn't been so nasty to me you'd find that someone with my book knowledge, blogging and online experience, interviewing and reviewing history and book knowledge and contacts would be perfect for helping to set up a books online business, but too late, I'm enjoying building business elsewhere - and adding features, interviews, reviews, news, previews and other interesting features to that site as well (in fact I added a fascinating piece by an author just this afternoon and one from a terrific cartoonist the other day).

It is nice to see you have learned at least a little though and are embracing blogging (although I wonder what form it will take), shame it is a year and a half after I left and set up a cool blog for a much hipper company. And a podcast too. So glad you realise I am an example worth emulating, shame you were unable to realise what you had at the time - to think you had a resource in your company that had a grasp of online functionality, blogs and a huge knowledge of books and the ability to communicate that to readers and you threw it away (in a fashion that hardly helped the company's image) - does make you wonder why that performance related pay went up rather than down - well, if you were a cynical person, which we all know I'm not :-)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nicely said, they can take their job and shove it where the sun don't shine. (isn't that somewhere over near Splice?)

11:51 AM  
Blogger Ariel said...

Joe mate, I thought that was remarkably restrained of you, all things considered. I was expecting a lot more **expletive deleted** I have to confess.

Personally I'm guessing that any forthcoming blog effort from W'Stone's will be a rather dry, marketing department-fuelled, ad-speak spiel in which the 'recommended' titles always seem to mysteriously match whatever's on the '3 for 2' table this month...

One thing that company just doesn't understand anymore is the paramount importance of authenticity, which the FPI blog just reeks of (keep up the good work!)

1:37 PM  
Blogger Steven Savile said...

Some folks never cease to amaze, do they?

1:46 PM  
Blogger Yvonne said...

Astonishing... Well done you for leaping forward to higher things.

2:20 PM  
Anonymous Lee said...

Nothing to do with the fact that the Staff at W'Stones, in fact disliked you? Mainly for being full of your own self-importance, which you still seem to demonstrating:
"I am an example worth emulating"
I hope that you don't speak down to your new colleagues, in the manner in which you behaved in Princes St. Some people sell ice cream, you sell books, you behaved as if you were some sort of "expert", which you're not. You were a Sales Assistant & you were behaving as if you were Kim Newman-although, I don't think Mr Newman would exhibit the arrogance that you displayed to your fellow employees.
It happened over a year ago, get over it! You're happy in your new job & Waterstones are happy that you're gone!

3:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Joe!
'tis Ken Mckay, erstwhile colleague and I too have a long memory for the finacial facts and figures of W****stones.

It was once suggested in the "Bookseller", that in the early 90's the average Waterstones bookseller [and we were anything but average!!] generated £130,000 of sales! Dont know if this was a crude "Gross turnover divided by No of booksellers" but you know how much we earned! Not even 10% of that.

I too laughed at the "launch of the "online store"". Perhaps things will go full circle and the shops will go back to actually having some interesting stock.

All the best, keep blogging.


8:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It was only a matter of time before they did this as they regretted the decision as soon as it was made. One interesting thing to note is the date of the relaunch. I suspect they have been tied into the Amazon contract for five years and/or Amazon will not now agree to the terms they want.

Ariel - you are probably right about the marketing department led bollocks. We got away with a lot on the old site and did a hell of a lot with no money to speak of.

4:20 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

Well, Lee, if that is your real name, I'm guessing you're probably an associate of the person known worldwide as Evil Boss. You are also totally wrong in pretty much every thoughtless line you put down here.

Considering the reactions of staff I knew and those across the company who I didn't know personally most of the staff were upset at what happened to me and I received a lot of support and good wishes from staff across the country. I had good relationships with staff, authors and publishers, just as I do in my new job.

As for not being an expert, well, guess what, you are wrong once more, as most readers of this blog could tell you - as indeed could other reviewers, booksellers, sites, journals, publishers, authors and broadcasters, all of whom I have been involved with in promoting good books (and still am) - that's why a number of bestselling authors stood up for me in the national press. You may be a simple retailer, I was a bookseller, a difference you obviously don't grasp and one of the reasons the company standards have slipped - selling books well doesn't work in quiete the same way as other retail jobs and a proper bookseller needs to be an expert, not just a till monkey, so don't project your own sense of inadequacy on to me or other proper booksellers. One of the reasons I was offered my current job is preciesely because I am an expert and that's also why I get asked to write reviews, do interviews or talk on the radio. I'm not sounding my own horn here and don't do those things to look important, I do them because I want to make people aware of good books and good writers. That's what booksellers do, perhaps you need to upgrade your skills and interest in your job instead of criticising others for being good at theirs.My enthusiasm for promoting good books is why I have writers friends across Britain, Europe, America and Asutralia. And I might add I did a lot of this promotion during my years at Waterstone's (unpaid, purely for the love of books) which reflected well on them.

As for being good enough to emulate, well with all false modesty flung aside, I can't help but notice the company is going back to older models of operation which we used to run successfully several years back, so they are emulating myself and the proper booksellers instead of trying to retail books as though they were selling tins of beans because they have realised that is better. And as far as online bookselling goes, I do pretty damned well and the point I was making was that with my online skills, contacts and book knowledge I have exactly the mix of skill sets they will need to set up a new bookstore online, but they lost that. And also that the way the entire online operation was changed a few years back showed that the senior folks in charge at the highest levels had no better idea of how to run that business than they did the bricks and mortars stores with their newly announced course of action supporting that view.

And as for it wa a year ago, get over it, I am. You'll notice I almost never mention Waterstone's on my blog since I announced the success of the appeal last year. I was barely going to mention this story to be honest until I saw that Alan Giles had named me personally in the FT article - as far as I am concerned that means I have every right to respond to it. And I'm not looking down on anyone, I'm just calling it the way I see it and obviously I do know more about bookselling and the history of the company and how it changed than you do - that's not looking down on you, it is just a fact. If their MD doesn't go round putting me into an article I won't go bothering them.

12:52 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

I've always wondered why a company would jump into bed with a rival, but then I obviously didn't have the mental capacity of the W'Stones management at that time, who decided forming an online partnership with amazon was a good idea.

Hmm, cannot see becoming an affiliate of somehow.

Anyway, it's their loss, but like all large corporations, they never admit they made a mistake.

12:43 PM  
Anonymous Alex said...

I think you may have started a new daily mantra for me: each day I open the patio doors stand out on the grass in my bar feet and repeat the phrase 'F**k W**erst*nes' in an even tone.

Honestly its improved my life no end.

2:33 PM  
Blogger martyn44 said...

Why does a company give a piece of its action to a competitor. Well, my experience (in a multinational way bigger than W***s and A***n put together) is that you might look to see if any senior board member has a family member (spouse, child, lover, father whatever) on the board of the competitor.
Yeah, and these are the guys insisting they just HAVE to keep their final salary pensions while insisting the company can't possibly let us keep ours.

2:03 PM  
Blogger martyn44 said...

Why does a company give a piece of its action to a competitor. Well, my experience (in a multinational way bigger than W***s and A***n put together) is that you might look to see if any senior board member has a family member (spouse, child, lover, father whatever) on the board of the competitor.
Yeah, and these are the guys insisting they just HAVE to keep their final salary pensions while insisting the company can't possibly let us keep ours.

2:04 PM  

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