Business Irish

Sunday 19 May 2019

W H Smith's 'Irish' book buyer for Terminal 2 stores is Australian

John Spain

W H Smith, which in March won the contract to run the three bookstores in the new Terminal 2 at Dublin Airport, has fulfilled its promise to hire a full-time Irish book buyer.

However, the buyer who has been appointed is not Irish, but Australian, and will be based in London, not Dublin.

The awarding of the contract for the T2 bookshops in March to WH Smith is a concern for Irish publishers because it gives the British chain a significant foothold in the Irish market for the first time.

The high profile of the new airport terminal, the number of shops and the amount of business that will be done there make it a critical outlet for Irish publishers.

A number of the Irish publishers have expressed concern that the giant British bookstore chain might bypass their books in favour of UK bestsellers bought by WH Smith's British team of book buyers.

"The trouble is that a big operation like WH Smith is centralised in the UK," one Irish publisher said.

"All the W H Smith ordering and distribution is done from there and that will put Irish publishers at a disadvantage. And on top of that, they don't know much about Irish books. They might know Dan Brown, but do they know who Ross O'Carroll Kelly is? I don't think so."

The same publisher pointed out that W H Smith already had the contract for Shannon Airport and the experience there for Irish publishers over the past couple of years had been "poor".

"They just don't stock enough Irish books there," the publisher said. "But Shannon is not nearly as important as Terminal 2, where the potential for business in the future is much greater."

To alay these concerns, W H Smith announced in March that it would appoint a full-time Irish buyer, who would buy the books for the new T2 stores and for their outlets at Shannon and Belfast airports.

In addition, the chain said it would source 20pc of the books from Irish publishers.

That appointment has been made, but it turns out that the retailer's Irish buyer will be an Australian who has previously bought books for Australian and New Zealand chains and has no experience here. The Irish buyer will be based in their London office.

WH Smith also said it had appointed former Hughes & Hughes buyer Anne Marie Slattery as their project manager for T2, but she was only on a four-month contract.


WH Smith will have three shops at T2, which opens in November -- one large store in the departures lounge beyond security and two smaller outlets, one landside and the other at the boarding gate area.

Craig Hillier, WH Smith's trading controller for books, said: "We'll be having meetings with Irish publishers on a monthly basis. The meetings will take place in Dublin and 20pc of our books will be Irish titles."

He said their stock would be tailored to the greater interest in Irish books among Irish customers and they would also have 'Best of Irish' and 'Irish Author of the Month' displays.

Mr Hillier said Irish publishers would be able to supply books direct to their stores here. This will avoid the situation faced by Irish publishers such as Poolbeg, who deal with Tesco.

Books from Poolbeg, based in Baldoyle on the north side of Dublin, have to go to Britain before they come back to be stocked at the Tesco branch a few miles away.

A spokeswoman for WH Smith said the company was "confident" their Irish buyer would be able to buy an attractive range of Irish books for their shops here, even though she is Australian and based in London.

The importance of the development was emphasised by Ivan O'Brien, managing director of O'Brien Press.

"Airport bookshops are the last place that tourists and natives can get some of the Irish tradition before leaving the island," he said.

"We all browse in bookshops while waiting for our plane, and for this reason a distinctively Irish character in these shops is critical for Irish readers, writers and publishers alike.

"Shops full of international bestsellers will always work commercially, but will not represent Ireland. If it's not on the shelf, you can't buy it."

Irish Independent

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