Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Introducing the Bookseller Association’s 2014 Rep of the Year

Karen was named ‘Sales Rep of the Year 2014’ at the Bookseller Association’s Academic, Professional and Specialist Bookselling group awards earlier this month. We thought that we would catch up with her to find out what it takes to be an  award-winner, and to find out a little more about the life of a Sales Rep.

How would you describe your working day?
Karen McWhirter - Cambridge University Press

Award-winning Karen, named ‘Rep Of The Year 2014’ by the Bookseller Association.

When I’m out on the road my day consists of a lot of driving which is pleasant in the spring and summer and I get to listen to the radio which I enjoy. Calling on my retail customers in campus bookshops to sell new titles, promotions such as New Cambridge Shakespeare, Canto or in store subject displays.

I also visit law departments where I meet with lecturers to secure new adoptions and roll-over existing ones.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

As my job is split I want to describe what I enjoy about each aspect.

I really enjoy visiting universities as I move up and down the corridors and meet with lecturers I am inspired by the potential that is created and passed on to students. Even in this challenging time due to high fees there is still a positive learning environment. I enjoy talking to lecturers about our product and finding out how the university landscape is constantly changing but the goal of providing the students with the best experience is still their aim.

My bookshop customers are a huge source of knowledge regarding their universities and I benefit hugely from this which transfers into sales. The relationship I have with my booksellers is enjoyable as they are an extension of my work colleagues in Cambridge as I am not office based and see them as often as I see people in Cambridge.

I like the atmosphere in bookshops and have a happy feeling as I walk in and meet my booksellers a lot of whom I have a personal as well as a professional relationship.

How has the rise of eBooks and the recession affected the work you do?

When I speak to law lecturers they are looking for their libraries to be able to purchase eBooks of the texts they recommend so the students can have access that way. As far as core text go currently students prefer print copies. John Smiths book-selling chain are now starting to provide eBooks direct to students through their bookshops which I believe will increase. Most publishers are struggling to sort out a pricing model for this but this is being resolved.

The recession, fees and internet resellers have all impacted on my sales. Lecturers are now not allowed to insist students buy core text which means we sell fewer copies. High fees have also meant that students have less disposable income and are more conscious of the price of books so look for the cheapest price.

Amazon market place is where the students look as it has many resellers with hugely competitive prices which beat Amazons own price in most cases .

My bookshops combat this by organising bundles of books tailored to courses at competitive prices and exclusive to them. Bursary schemes also mean students purchase books and other products through the bookshops which has been a huge boost for them Products such as ereaders and even laptops are included.

How did it feel to win Rep of the Year 2014?

It made me smile from ear to ear. After many years doing a job I enjoy, this was a proud moment.

It made me smile from ear to ear. After many years doing a job I enjoy, this was a proud moment.

I was delighted as it was my customers who voted for me and this made me feel I must be working well with them and adding value. It’s a great feeling to know what you are doing is worthwhile. One of the reasons that was given for my win was the quality of adoption information we provide for our shops which is invaluable. Therefore this is a shared win with Gordon Stewart and Stuart Hughes inside sales who generate this.

I was very nervous when they announced my name and went and collected the award but it made me smile from ear to ear. After many years doing a job I enjoy, this was a proud moment.

What are you reading at the moment?

I am currently reading book one of the  ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ series which is part of ‘A Game of Thrones’ by George R.R. Martin. Our castle in Doune was used for filming the first TV series so we had the pleasure of having Sean Bean locally. The book is very true to the TV series and a brilliant fast paced read. As I travel a lot with my job I get time to read which is a real pleasure for me. My favourite genre is crime fiction.

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