Last year the NSW Australian Booksellers Association (ABA) Rep of the Year was awarded to a telesales reps. Thankfully last night the award was deservedly given to Robert Watkins from Hachette, who is not a telesales rep. In Victoria a telesales rep has won the overall award for the last two years. This is NOT a vindication that booksellers prefer telesales reps, it is an indication that most bookshops now only have telesales reps rather than one that calls into their shops.
I have never had a telesales rep and to be honest I would rather have new release sheets in the mail than have one. I’m sure the people that do telesales are fantastic at their jobs but I don’t see reps to have new release sheets and publicity plans read aloud to me. I can already do this.
A rep is my first point of contact with a publisher. A good one will get to know my shop and gain some knowledge of my local area and use this when they sell books in. A good one will get to know my and staff’s reading tastes and will bring in appropriate reading copies. A good one will have promotion ideas that suit my shop and my customers. And a good one will report back to their company and try to find solutions for any issues and problems our shop is having. Maybe I’m wrong but I can’t see how a telesales rep can do most of these things.
Sadly though, it is a sign of the times that the role of a rep is diminishing. Every time a publisher is forced to make cutbacks the sales force is usually the first to get the knife (which is a bit short-sighted if you ask me). But the costs of keeping a rep on the road is high and like any business if you don’t feel like you are getting value for money or a return on your investment you are going to stop doing it.
Bookshops are also guilty when it comes to cutting back on reps. I have cutback on the number of reps we see as we just do not have the time to see everybody every month. We have cut some reps down to bi-monthly appointments and others we rely on the release sheets. For me it was a matter of making sure I spent time on the shop floor and not in the office all day. There is no point getting really great information from reps about books if I can’t share it with customers!
In the US Above The Treeline has developed an internet-based service called Edelweiss which is an interactive version of publishers’ traditional new release catalogues. This service not only benefits stores that see a sales rep but is a massive aid to stores that no longer see a sales rep. After having a brief browse of the software the best way I can describe it is that it it’s like publishers’ new release sheets mixed with the best possible version of TitlePage integrated with Social Media (Facebook, twitter, blogs) and your Point-of-Sale system. Booksellers in the US rave about how much time they save and how it makes them better buyers. Now you don’t hear that…ever! Publishers also rave about the service and have experienced increased sales especially in titles that are most appropriate for individual bookshops. Have a look here.
There is about to be a massive overall of the management of TitlePage with promised improvements and enhancements. I hope that something like Edelweiss is also in the pipeline. I know I will be pushing for it.