The Times this morning has quite a lot to say about WH Smith. Mike Verdin has a piece, presumably based on what WHS says about itself, which reveals that the firm had a relatively poor Christmas, with sales down by 1% compared with the same period last year. However, the store has apparently been looking at its margins, and has concentrated on goods which make more money; as a result, high-street profitability is substantially ahead. Book sales fell, but reduced reliance on promotions meant that margins soared. Allegedly.
Reduced reliance on promotions? You could have fooled me. I was in my local WHS earlier this week and a member of staff was busy putting up posters which offered all kinds of cut-price deals for books. As I watched this lady at work, I was much taken with the view that WHS really don't have any faith in books. The impression you get from these money-off tempters is that WHS regard books as cheapo crap. And if you get that feeling from a shop, why would you want to buy anything?
Elsewhere in the Times, Patience Wheatcroft, the business editor also looks at the WHS situation. She approves of what the CEO, Kate Swann, has done, but says that 'an application of common sense does not mean that there is a rosy future ahead for WH Smith.' She highlights the fact that WHS is caught between the specialist booksellers on the one hand and the supermarkets on the other.
Meanwhile The Independent reports (link supplied by booktrade.info) that Penguin have refused to make a general payment to all their authors for sales lost as a result of last year's warehouse failure. But they will, it seems, consider claims from individual authors who believe that they have a case. The Indie also reports that Penguin's sales in the US were down last year, which some observers ascribe to a switch towards non-fiction reading, an area in which Penguin is traditionally not so strong.