Iain Dale of Politico’s describes the fun and games at his store during a frantic election campaign.
Phwam! Hardly had John Prescott’s straight left landed than Simon & Schuster were on the ‘phone asking if we wanted the rest of the stock of the Prescott biography, felicitously entitled ‘Fighting Talk’. Life’s been like that at Politico’s during the general election campaign. It’s been great fun and very busy.
Any books connected with the election have sold very well. Notable sellers have been two titles published by Politico’s: Politico’s Guide to the General Election and How to Win an Election. I wonder if the latter has been read at Conservative Central Office?
Those aside, other best selling titles have included the Guardian’s Companion to the General Election and Did Things Get Better? Biographies of Messrs Blair and Hague have also seen sales increase throughout the campaign, although perhaps not by as much as we might have expected. Alas, no biography of Mr Kennedy has yet been published; but his Future of Politics was happily issued in paperback in time for the campaign, so Lib Dems did not feel left out.
Even bookstores cannot live by books alone and Politico’s has sold manifestos by the thousand – 14,000 at the last count. Interestingly, if our sales are anything to go by, a hung Parliament beckons. The people’s opinion poll, perhaps? And it’s not just political anoraks that buy manifestos. We have had a lot of people explain on their internet orders that they are buying them so they can decide properly how to use their votes. How quaint! Government departments are also avid devourers of manifesto details and so they should be. After all, it is their civil servants who will have to implement the policies.
Whilst on the topic of manifestos, one of the main parties was very late delivering theirs to us. We were told it would be in the store at 11am on the day of release. It arrived at 2pm, by which time the store was crowded with people eager – some almost desperate – to get their hands on a copy. And they say politics is boring. One woman had been looking around the store for over three hours waiting for the manifesto to be delivered. She was almost dribbling with excitement, poor dear. It would be wrong of me to tell you the particular party; but talk about all spin and no delivery.
Gift items – including badges, Blair and Hague baseball caps, cat and dog toys, gnomes, knickers and mugs – have sold spectacularly well. Intriguingly, all the Hague merchandise has outsold that of Blair by margins ranging from four to ten to one. A sign of an upset on June 7th or serious collectors sensing that Hague memorabilia might be of interest on the Antiques Roadshow many years hence?
To his credit John Prescott roared with laughter when we showed him a toby jug depicting him with two jaguars as the handle. And Ann Widdecombe, having rearranged our shelves to display The Clematis Tree more prominently (and not for the first time), collapsed in a heap when we gave her a pair of “I Love Ann Widdecombe” knickers. “But they won’t fit,” she cried. A vision was forming in my mind…
Somewhat surprisingly, given that we are a politics specialist, no publisher approached us to offer us special deals on election related titles. All that changed thanks to the Deputy Prime Minister. If a week is a long time in politics, then a day is a long time in publishing: when Peter Mandelson resigned earlier in the year, it took the same publisher less than two hours to contact us offering us copies of one of his biographies. Oh well, that’s politics – and publishing.
There have been other surprises too. Mentioning no names; but we have had a few parliamentary candidates – and not all for London seats – in the store during the campaign. Is this a novel form of canvassing or the insight of a great statesperson that campaigning in a seat may do more harm than good? Whatever, it is good to see that some politicians have been out meeting real people and buying real products!
All told, we’ve had a fabulous – if stressful – time. We’ve had our best ever month and last week was our best ever week by a factor of almost two. Four years on from our opening, we have also demonstrated that specialists can survive in the booktrade. As for the proposal for annual elections, as someone once said: ‘What a good idea!’