Inside the Australian and New Zealand book industry

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Book buyer spotlight: James Bennett’s buying team

Australian library supplier James Bennett’s 11-strong buying team combines expertise from the bookselling, library and publishing sectors. Buyer Louise Oliver spoke to Books+Publishing for our ‘book buyer spotlight’ series.

How long have you been in the role and what did you do previously?

We are a large and busy team of buyers and between us we have over 150 years of book experience across the retail, library and publishing world, garnered from such industry stalwarts as Dymocks, Borders, Better Read Than Dead, Booktopia, W H Smith, Co-op Bookshop, Berkelouw, Harry Hartog, David Jones, HarperCollins, Hachette, Simon & Schuster and Scholastic—to name but a few! Some of us have been in this role for more than 17 years, others have joined more recently, but we each have an area of specialisation and a lust for books!

What does your average day involve?

Buying. Lots of buying! As well as being an online book retailer for the library industry we also manage the book and multimedia budgets for many of our customers. In collaboration with our libraries we develop detailed specs to ensure that every book we buy for them will be a loved and wanted book. As each of the buyers on our team looks after a particular area, we can ensure that we cover the depth and breadth of what is published.

How do you find out about new books?

We have regular data feeds from publishers in Australia, the UK and USA, and of course, like all booksellers, we receive monthly AIs from all the major and not-so-major publishers in Australia. We are avid readers of the usual industry magazines, websites and blogs, and have an ear to the ground for industry news, as well as being super aware of what is trending out in the ‘real’ world.

How do you find out about new books by small publishers and self-published authors?

JB has been in the library supply market for over 50 years, and we are very well known to all publishers large and small! Small publishers email their new release information to us, and self-published authors have their own special place on our website where they can upload all the information about their book.

What influences your decision to order a book?

Does it fit the profile for the libraries we look after? We go into the depth and breadth of publishers’ lists because libraries want not only what their patrons can see is in their local bookshop but also other more niche titles.

Do you prefer seeing sales reps in person or via email?

It’s always good to see a rep in person and for many of the publishers we do just that, but as we cover so many publishers across Australia and internationally this is not always possible. Nowadays, publishers have great websites and we get a lot of our information this way.

How far in advance of a new book’s release date do you place an order?

Generally three months, but if a book is getting publicity and the publisher is able to accept orders then it can be many months in advance—for example, Bill Bryson’s The Body (Doubleday) is an October release but we placed our first orders for this in January.

What is your strategy when it comes to purchasing backlist titles?

One of the great privileges of working at James Bennett is being an integral part of the birth of a brand new library; buying the books that will become the backbone of a new community resource. This is where the specialisation of our team members really comes to the fore. As part of that process we look at every single title that is in stock in Australia and overseas to find the books that will fit with the new library’s vision.

For libraries that use Collection HQ we use various reports to determine which books have been borrowed the most and will need new copies. This is an invaluable tool as it can highlight titles that would not ordinarily be on the library’s radar to replace.

In your experience, what are the biggest drivers of a book’s popularity?

There are some titles that take off because of word of mouth, and some that are popular because the author already has a media presence, but overwhelmingly a book’s popularity is primarily driven by the publisher’s marketing budget!

What do you think the book industry does well, and what needs to improve?

The Australian publishing industry has always been at the forefront of new ideas. It is now also gradually embracing diversity, publishing more titles that reflect the views of its multicultural population.

One of the most frustrating things is the lack of backlist titles kept in stock. If a title is still in print but not in stock in Australia it forces book buyers to purchase from overseas when they would prefer to support the local economy.

Which book do you always recommend?

Since there are 11 of us, with 11 different opinions, I will make a captain’s call and say One for the Money by Janet Evanovich (Michael Joseph). I have got many, many people hooked on this series by buying this first one for them! My apologies to our Australian literature buyer.

Pictured: James Bennett buying team



Category: Features