Bookselling and the Argos model

Liz Thomson • 11 February 2013

HarperCollins UK CEO Victoria Barnsley, along with Jonny Geller, MD of Curtis Brown’s Book Division, and Michael Tamblyn, Chief Content Officer of Kobo, joined Evan Davies on BBC Radio’s Bottom Line last week, and the three could be seen chatting in the studio when the programme was broadcast on Saturday on BBC News 24.
Naturally, there was much talk of DRM, with Barnsley suggesting that sharing was of far greater concern than piracy. She also suggested that, just as some New York shoe shops now charged the equivalent of around £2 to try on shoes - because so many customers went away and bought cheaper online - booksellers might consider charging for browsing. It’s hard to see that being anything other than the kiss of death, especially in this climate.

In Geller’s vision, bookshops become like Argos showrooms. Geller also argued that the author/agent relationship was the strongest of all publishing relationships, and certainly authors following their agents (as Oli Munson’s clients have done in his move from Blake Friedmann to A M Heath) is not uncommon. But it is also not uncommon (though the economic downturn has rather put a damper on it) to see authors lured away from the agent who has nurtured them with the promise of more money elsewhere - a tactic not unknown at Curtis Brown (Jilly Cooper from Desmond Elliott, plus an attempt on Penny Vincenzi, who blew the gaff), or, by reputation, at the Wylie agency.