A book buyer explains the process of choosing which books go on sale in the UAE
Being a book buyer might sound like a dream job for book lovers, but it involves a lot more than just reading. A buyer must be good with numbers and managing budgets. They need sales and negotiation skills, and there’s the responsibility of finding new titles – usually about 100 each month – to add to the shelves.
Christopher Clothier is a 32-year-old from the United Kingdom who’s a senior book buyer at Virgin Megastore Middle East. He moved to Dubai in January, with more than a decade of experience in the industry, having worked as a book buyer for the British book retailer Waterstones. Clothier, together with Walter Santos, a junior book buyer, purchase the range for the 12 branches of Virgin Megastore in the UAE, as well as those in Egypt, Bahrain, Qatar and Jordan, with the support of local booksellers. He answers our questions about his role, the industry and why colouring books are so popular in the UAE.
How did you become a book buyer?
By working in a bookstore right after college – I graduated with a bachelor of arts in philosophy and ancient history. I had worked in different roles at Waterstones, a big book chain in the UK, where I would interact with the customers, recommend books I had read, as well as work in the commercial and business side of the industry, before becoming a book buyer. It wasn’t a set-out plan, it just happened. But reading lots of books and loving books is at the heart of the profession.
How are books selected for the shelves?
So much of the approach to buying a book is subjective. What you’re passionate about reading is a very personal subject. However, I always try to put myself in the shoes of our customers and consider what they would be looking for in a book. Experience in the trade and staying up to date with the latest trends in reading are the best aids in this.
While I will keep in mind which categories or genres of book are the most popular, it’s important to judge each title on its own merit. It’s not like buying toothpaste; if we’re missing the book a customer is looking for, they won’t necessarily pick up one that looks similar.
Describe your role in how a book ends up on the shelf.
If we think about my part in the journey of a book, from the author and publisher to the shelves, it will start either with a meeting with a publisher to discuss forthcoming titles or an email with bibliographic detail, jacket image and plot synopsis. From this point, I will make a shortlist of titles that are the best fit for our customers’ tastes.
There’s simply no way to read every book that comes out or even the entirety of every book we stock. However, I do try to read as many of the new titles coming in as I can before making decisions.
Once a book has been selected for our range, I will look at genre performance and sales for similar titles in our different shops before building an order. After this, it’s largely a case of waiting for the stock to arrive and seeing how people react to it.
Outside of work, I spend a lot of my free time reading upcoming titles – it is essential to the role; you can see me most mornings with my head in book as I walk along the Marina towards the office. Being so new to Dubai, I have to find a balance between getting to know the city and burying myself in a good book.
Have you noticed a formula that helps a book become successful?
I’ve spent the past decade in the trade, and I’m still astounded by the volume of quality titles that are being published and how there is no real way to guarantee success. There are always going to be success stories that no one predicted, such as the current boom in colouring books. Likewise, there will be titles you believe in with all your heart that fail to gain any traction.
Many factors affect the success of a book, but the biggest change in recent years has been the impact of social media. People are very savvy to when and how they are being marketed to; the honest support of bloggers on platforms such as YouTube or Instagram can bring attention to an amazing book that may never have been heard of otherwise.
An interesting fact that has held true for a long time is that books about cats tend to sell better than books about dogs.
Are there any UAE-specific book trends that you have noticed?
UAE book trends tend to follow global book trends, in that what is fashionable abroad becomes fashionable here. At the same time, we have noticed a particular interest for business books, and autobiographies of successful business people, perhaps reflective of the entrepreneurial nature of customers in the UAE.
Having said that, our top five best-selling books of 2016 so far [at Virgin Megastore] are colouring books, which probably reflects the great need for stress and anxiety relief.
I have also noticed that most people don’t read on the Metro in Dubai. One of the best places to check out what people are reading is to look at what commuters are reading on public transport. Here, I haven’t seen many people read books – mostly they are checking their smartphones while waiting or riding the Metro.
What are your thoughts on the Year of Reading initiative?
Although there are a great number of people of all ages who devour books, it’s clear that reading is something that needs addressing, and fostering a generation of voracious readers will pay dividends for the UAE – there is no downside, and it’s been great seeing people get behind the idea.
I can’t list all the ways that a childhood of reading books has made me a better person; books have kept me company on long journeys, helped me through life’s problems, and even meant I can sound smarter than I am in social situations.
Anything that motivates reading, particularly in schools, is more than just a good cause, and it is essential that enthusiasm for reading extends to the home environment, too. Like so many others, my passion for books can be traced directly back to my parents reading to me as a child and to growing up knowing that reading is something you do for fun and relaxation, as well as for study.
Self-publishing has become increasingly popular in recent years. What advice do you have for budding writers?
The bad news is that writing your book is just the first step; get it checked by someone who will be brutally honest, or be willing to get an editor to carefully check the text before going to print. Often, you’re too close to your own work to see the simple, easy-to-miss mistakes. Make sure your book looks like something you would see in a bookshop. Buy a bestseller, look at the way they’ve approached production.
Top-selling books of 2016 so far
Virgin Megastore UAE
1. Querkles by Thomas Pavitte
2. Querkles Masterpieces by Thomas Pavitte
3. Secret Garden by Johanna Basford
4. Keep Calm and Colour for Mums by Huck & Pucker
5. Lost Ocean by Johanna Basford
1. Secret Garden by Johanna Basford
2. Cometh the Hour by Jeffrey Archer
3. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
4. Peppa Plays Football by Ladybird
5. Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare
1. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
2. Who Moved My Cheese? by Dr Spencer Johnson
3. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
4. Coco Chanel by Megan Hess
5. Fat Dad, Fat Kid by Shay Butler and Gavin Butler
• Don’t miss the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair at Adnec until May 3. For more information, visit www.adbookfair.com.
Updated: April 28, 2016 04:00 AM