Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Occupy Books. Do We Want Our Books on Prescription?

This week I found out that a high street bookseller who always stocks our latest books can’t take any books released by us this season. They want to stock the books and have asked me to come back after Christmas, when they will be able to stock them.

This was a bit of a shock, because of course this is one of them main times of the year when people will be looking for books as gifts. The manager liked our books – she wanted our books – but she told me that at the moment ‘It’s all prescribed’.

I looked into this and found out that major publishers pay to have their books stocked at Christmas, and the evasive word for this is that the books have been ‘prescribed’. Even publishers who normally get their books stocked will be turned at the door until this favourable time for bookselling has passed.

So, if you go into the main bookshops for your gifts, you’ll be getting them on prescription. The major publishers have paid to have certain books not only thrust in your face, but also to have other books kept out of stock until January.

We all know this happens to a certain extent all year – that the books on the best display tables have been paid for, and that the others only have their spines showing on shelves.

But I didn’t realise books that the shop managers would like to stock are turned away completely over Christmas because they haven’t been ‘prescribed’ with a hefty payment from the publisher.

This doesn’t just include books from smaller presses. It includes books in the mid-list from major publishers. The publishers decide which books we should be offered based on what they think can sell in large numbers, and they publicise those books in a number of ways to make sure people want them.

We know which books those are. Their celebrity authors have been appearing on TV chat shows recently. No doubt there will also be some good novels, but what there won’t be is a good range of choice and books stocked according to what the bookshop manager and buyers select on merit.

It’s always hard for me to get poetry books into these main bookshops, but they will support local poets so long as we have all our books in their centralised system, and we do. They do support all of our novels by stocking them, and also the Bedford Square 5 anthology. Just not while the books are stocked on prescription.

I’m not saying this in order to say ‘Buy my book’ or ‘Buy from my publishing company’ and I wouldn’t want Occupy Books to be a protest that’s exploited purely for marketing.

The only way to show how we feel about what one person called ‘corruption in publishing and bookselling’ when he explained prescription to me, is not to support the shops doing this and to look for books in a different way.

If you want to answer this post with suggestions, please don’t point to your own publishing company or book. Perhaps show good review sites about books from independent presses. Perhaps take a look on the websites of a number of independent publishing companies and buy direct from the publisher.

Or contact some of your favourite authors on Facebook and ask to buy signed copies direct from them. We can also ‘buy local’ and ‘buy direct’ for our books, if we don’t want them on prescription.


  1. There´s a very simple solution to this, from the buyer´s point of view: buy your Xmas gift books in August. This solution has the added advantage of allowing the merry shopper to dodge the crowds and the jingle bells.

  2. Or buy them in January and meet up with people to exchange gifts then....

  3. Incredibly frustrating. You can't support both bookshops and book writers at the same time, it seems. What can we do? I'll go tweet this around now, if you don't mind.

  4. I've been pleased they supported us by taking books all year and they will again. But this did shock me.

  5. The books they had already stocked are still on display.

  6. Well, that´s something to be thankful for. At least they didn´t consign them to the storeroom over the Xmas period.


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