Waterstones and UK Bookshop distribution



I would be grateful if any of you could offer any advice, thoughts or info about the following problem I have discovered today.


In 2009 I published a book called The Unknown Warriors, a WWII book, and paid for global distribution. Apart from various teething issues it went quite smoothly. It showed up on Amazon, then eventually other sites such as Waterstones, and was on Neilsen. I got an article about it in the Daily Mail, which was great. Of course being a self publisher people could not just call into their local bookshop and find a pile of the books on the front table! haha And some struggled, because it had not quite got on the system, so although I got a real boost it was not as good as it could have been. Anyway, a few weeks later it showed up on Waterstones system and everything was in place. At the time it was possible to call individual Waterstones and ask them to stock the book. I phoned most of them, and most took a few copies and overall I think about 200 - 300 in total were sold by them, from the ones they got in stock, the last time I asked one of their staff about 1 year after publication. However, again being a self publisher, once they had sold the one or two they had ordered they did not order again so it never got any momentum. 


I then published an updated version and from what I recall paid the distribution and again it showed up on various sites.


Then last year I published another book, this time a WW1 book, called World War One Frontline News. I paid for the distrubution and sent out some review copies. However, there was a large number of WW1 titles published and they were all focussing on the big publisher's authors, such as Jeremy Paxman. So nothing came of that. Also, I discovered that it was no longer possible to do what I had did the first time with Waterstones as they now have a central buying policy and you have to send a book to the Independent Publishers section of their HQ. I did this but was told at the time they were unlikely to stock Lulu titles, but people would be able to request at the counter and order.


Today I thought I do some book marketing, as these 2 months are obviously a time when people buy more books than normal. I phoned Waterstones and after checking they said it was 'not on their system' I then checked both titles and neither were on their website either. They both had been originally. I then had a chat with the Independent Publishing section and was told that Waterstones does not sell any Lulu titles currently and from what I understand it is some distribution issue. Waterstones had an arrangement to get books from L ightning S ource, but not all of Lulu books are published there, so Waterstones say it is not practical for them to sell Lulu titles currently due to this confusion. 


I then phoned a random Waterstones branch as a customer and asked them if they had either titles. I knew they would not have them on the shelves, but wanted to see if it was true that nothing shows on their computers. The response I got was there is nothing showing, no book of that name, author or ISBN.


Is anyone aware of this issue?

Can it be changed, what are Lulu doing about it?


I have had no emails or any communication from Lulu to say they can no longer provide books to Waterstones, or if they are working on a solution. I paid 2 lots of Global Reach (which I think was £45 at the time per book) and yet the main bookshop in the UK doesnt have a record of it! I am so frustrated that years after publication I am still having to try and sort out stuff like this and I am really cheesed off that this must have been the case for quite a while and I was not even aware of it.


  • Having just checked my revenues it shows of the 18 printed copies I have sold this year, all have been ordered from Amazon, not a single one from a bookshop such as WH Smith, Waterstones etc, and that never used to be the case when The Unknown Warriors was first published, orders used to come from other sources as well. 

  • Just KevinJust Kevin Lulu Genius

    Waterstones use their own central distribution service and not places such as Ingrams like Lulu use, and it's not at all easy to get listed on Waterstones. I have just looked for me on their site and after many years I am not listed there, although I have never tried!





  • oncewasoncewas Librarian

    All distribution does is offer books to retailers via the distribution partners. Retailers have their own policies on whether to accept books or not. Waterstones have advised you that it is not their policy to accept books from Lulu. Buying policies, like anything, can be altered and amended.


    Retailers operate on a 'sale or return' basis while print on demand operates on a 'you pays your money and you takes your chances' basis. Print on demand works fine for Amazon, as it does not have physical bookstores. However, for the ordinary bricks-and-mortar bookstores stocking a self-published book represents a financial risk as they cannot return it if no one wants to buy it.

  • Hi


    Thanks for your replies but you have both missed my point. Firstly I am not expecting Waterstones to stock my book, what has changed is that Lulu books, if you gave them the name of the book and isbn were books that they could find on their system in their shops (which is linked to Neilsen) and they would happily order a book for a customer if they requested it. This was the case, but what I found on Friday is that they had some sort of arrangement with lightning source foe Lulu books, but because not all Lulu books are printed there they cannot be sure they can get the specific book and have put selling on hold.


    The books used to show on their website as they do automatically elsewhere. I have just checked a few other sites and i'm pleased to see they are on sale. So this must mean it is not a listing problem but something more specfic with Waterstones. The stores below will not have them sitting in a pile, but they must be linked to the feed which allows them to get an order and send it to the printer, just as Waterstones used to.



















  •  for the ordinary bricks-and-mortar bookstores stocking a self-published book represents a financial risk as they cannot return it if no one wants to buy it.


    The sale or return agreement retailers have with publishers is an unusual one because no other product has that advantage. There's an interesting clause  in law agreed to with most mailorder companies and it's that any product can be returned even if the buyer simply changes their mind. In the UK that's just been extended to 30 days in which a customer has to make up their mind. It does apply to POD books also. I doubt it applies to e-books because it's not classed as mailorder and you cannot send them back.

  • Kevin, you seem to be missing the point completely. This is not about expecting books shops to STOCK a book, it is about a print on demand feed that was working with Waterstones which no longer is, because of some change or confustion regarding Lulu using lightning source and another printer I think for printing books. Waterstones say they cannot tell which is a lightning source printed Lulu book and which is not so they currently no longer sell any.


    As I said above, I have direct experience with Waterstones with my first book. It worked fine a few years ago. Customer walks into shop, have you got The Unknown Warriors? Waterstones member of staff checks computer, no sorry it looks like a print on demand title, but I can order one for you if you want. Customer - thanks, hands over debit card, returns a week later and picks the book up,


    Now, customer walks into Waterstones, "Hello, do you stock The Unknown Warriors?" Waterstones staff member checks the name, the title. Nothing showing. "Do you have the isbn?" Customer does, member of staff types it in. "Er, sorry there is nothing coming up at all about that book, We can't get it." Customer walks out confused and never buys it, thinking it must be out of print.

  • Well, as I said, I don't know how you got listed with Waterstone's because they use their own exclusive system that publishers have to apply to be listed.

  • Yes you have to apply if you want them to order your book as stock for their shops, but it was also the case that the Lulu books would be available to any customer that requested a copy to be ordered. Due to some strange dispute regarding confusion about not all Lulu titles being printed by Lightning Source, which is where Waterstones got them from, they have put all books on hold for now. In other words if I understood the Waterstones guy correctly, if Lulu sorted this out they would then once again have all the books on their database feed.

  • Perhaps they changed policy when they almost went bankrupt not many years ago, and were bought out for £1?

  • Not sure, but if you click on the WH Smith link you will see what I mean. I have never contacted WH Smith before, or the Book Depository, but the book is available on their websites and can be ordered. They certainly won't have them in stock but they clearly have this feed to the printer so the book can be ordered. Waterstones also used to be like this, but no longer is.

  • Well that's another puzzle because I am not listed at W. H. Smiths either. I think they also use their own system.  Did you pay Lulu for extra marketing or something?


    I am just now looking at Ingram's site and they are a bit vague about who they distribute to. Perhaps Lulu know? This is what they say only about Lulu Dist >>   http://connect.lulu.com/t5/ISBN-Distribution/What-Distribution-Services-Does-Lulu-Offer/ta-p/33503


    In theory if you ask a retailer or even a library to obtain a book via an ISBN they should be able to get it, but some of them use their own distribution systems and if the book is not listed on it they will not get it.

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