How technology has allowed for more collaboration with our bookstores

Photo of Morgen Young

Morgen Young has worked in the Canadian publishing industry since 2006 and considers herself very lucky to be a part of the amazing team at Ampersand. Beginning as a sales rep in Southwestern Ontario, she has spent her career working with many amazing independent, chain and big box retailers across the country. She thinks the best thing about this industry is the collaboration and collegiality…and of course the free books! Morgen became Vice President of Ampersand in 2016 and teaches Book Sales & Marketing at Centennial College. She attended one summer of theatre school, where her singing instructor told her she has a “good ear, but a terrible voice.” Morgen will be at Tech Forum moderating a panel called Building Bridges, Not Walls: Successful Publishing & Retailing Collaborations.

When I first started in this industry, I thought a sales rep’s job was to meet with booksellers and to tell them what they should carry in their stores. This idea intimidated me. After all, who am I to tell a bookseller — who has more experience and who is the biggest expert when it comes to their store — what they should carry? I quickly learned that this was not the way it worked. I learned (and continue to learn) so much from the booksellers I met with. Not only did I learn about the stores, their histories, communities, and staff, I also learned more about the titles and authors whose books I was selling. I soon learned who I wanted to meet with first each season (Nancy Frater), because I knew I would be even more prepared to sell the list after that meeting. I gained valuable insight into what makes a book more likely to move off the shelves in different communities. I also learned the value of a sales rep. We're able to take the time to get to know our country’s stores and booksellers, as well as our publishers and their lists, and work with both in identifying, and hopefully maximizing, opportunities to sell books.

"With the efficiencies that technology brings, as well as the insight into a store’s sales history, reps are able to know our stores better than ever before."

Over the last 13 years, how that's done has changed a lot. When I started, I would hit the road with my car loaded with catalogues, samples, and ARCs. I would spend all day selling our list (with a break for lunch — feed your booksellers, people!), taking an order as we went. I had pages and pages of paper order forms that I spent an arduous amount of time filling out, and then even more time standing by the fax machine, as the order forms were fed through and (fingers crossed) sent off without a hitch. Eventually, I would spend about the same amount of time entering that order into our computer system, which was still painful, but at least kept a clearer record for later reference.

A stack of books and an iPad in front of them.

Today, thanks to the awesome Raincoast eCatalogue, CataListBookmanager, and Ampersand’s internal ordering system, our reps carry a lot less (my car and my back have greatly benefitted). At Ampersand, we have a system of taking orders electronically as we go through our list, then uploading and sending our orders to the distributor right away. What used to be a week of follow-up and order-sending after book fairs is now all done on the spot, giving us more time for follow-up with our stores and our publishers, relaying valuable feedback from our travels. (While it is still fresh in our minds! Even better!)

Not that long ago, when asked for a suggestion of how many copies of a book a bookseller should bring in, that number had more to do with what we thought would give our title more visibility in their store, as well as knowing what was reasonable for that store, of course. (Powers of observation go a long way here!) With access to SalesData, I can give a much more informed suggestion. I still know how many copies their store is likely to carry and what will give my book the visibility I think it needs, but now I also have the invaluable knowledge of how many copies they have sold of comp titles or the author’s backlist. Recently, one of my beloved booksellers was shocked at my suggestion that she bring in 40 copies of Louise Penny’s newest title, but that suggestion was based on how many copies she had sold of the last Louise Penny hardcover. She quickly ran through that stock and had to reorder! Thank you, SalesData! A simple example of how having access to this information allowed for better collaboration and resulted in more sales.

With the efficiencies that technology brings, as well as the insight into a store’s sales history, reps are able to know our stores better than ever before. We're able to sell our lists more effectively and (hopefully) take some work off of the shoulders of our awesome booksellers and buyers. While this beautiful industry will remain unpredictable at times, we've only gotten better at helping each other to succeed.  

If you'd like to hear more from Morgen Young about publisher and retailer collaborations, register for Tech Forum on March 20, 2019 in Toronto. You can find more details about the conference here, or sign up for the mailing list to get all of the conference updates.