Waterstone's new Managing Director, Gerry Johnson, is reportedly upset that some people are not happy with the company, and has embarked on a 'charm offensive'. See Publishing News for details (link from booktrade.info).
Presumably as a part of that charm offensive, Johnson is interviewed, sort of, by Nicholas Clee for the Times. Clee says that Waterstone's made a huge change of tack in 1999 when the firm chose Last Chance Saloon by Marian Keyes as its book of the month. But he doesn't say why.
Was this because Marian Keyes is (I understand) a huge seller, and the choice meant that the company was going to support big sellers rather than give its imprimatur to obscure literary names? Or was it a turning point because Keyes's publisher got Last Chance Saloon made book of the month by the simple expedient of handing over £10,000 in cash?
As a recent commenter reminded us, a 2001 article in the Spectator explained how the 'book of the month' type marketing schemes work. But the Clee/Johnson interview says not a word about it.
Was this because Clee didn't have the wit to ask? Seems unlikely. Or was it because Johnson said that that kind of question was off limits? If the latter, I think Clee should have said thanks, but run your own charm campaign.
Well, 2001 is now quite a long time ago, and I for one would like to know how Waterstone's and W.H. Smith currently operate their bung system. Is it a case of 'we'll plug anything for a fee'; or is that they approach publishers and say, We like this book and if you pay us we'll push it; or is February's pile nearest the door open for auction? Or what? I think we should be told, and I think it's about time some professional journalist found out.