Worries of bookseller’s demise were premature: How technology and collaboration helped Words Worth Books survive and thrive

mirko    February 22, 2015

Organizaton: Words Worth Books

Industry: Independent book retailer

Contact: David Worsley david@wordsworthbooks.com

Web References: Words Worth Books, BookManager, YouTube

WordsWorth exterior


I remember the moment I thought my favourite bookstore was doomed.

In the late 1990s I asked the cashier at Words Worth Books — an independent bookshop in the heart of Waterloo, Ontario — how long it would take for a particular book order to arrive.

The answer: five to six weeks.


At that time, the Chapters bookstore chain had announced it would be setting up shop not too far down the road.

While some book lovers looked forward to Chapters’ arrival, others, myself included, thought Words Worth was destined for the remainder bin — especially if it was taking five to six weeks to fill book orders.

Fast forward 15 years and, I’m happy to report, worries of Words Worth’s demise were unfounded — the plucky little shop is still a going concern.

How did Words Worth, and other small independent bookstores, survive?

Two reasons come to mind — collaboration and technology: collaboration by various industry players to standardize part of the supply chain; and the development of information technology to improve the book ordering process.

These days when I call Words Worth to place an order, co-owner David Worsley tells me my book will arrive in about a week.

DavidWorsley at cash

Worsley credits industry software such as BookManager — one of a number of proprietary software systems being used by bookstores to place their orders — with speeding up the ordering and delivery process.

In the past, Worsley said in a recent interview, retailers would have to place orders one-by-one by phone, email or fax. Now, using BookManager, he enters all of the information for all of his book orders, hits a button and sends them as a batch.

“What used to take a good three or four hours on one full afternoon now takes, essentially, 20 minutes,” Worsley said.

The time he saves allows him and his business partner, Mandy Brouse, to spend more time selling books to customers.

The streamlined ordering system also speeds delivery because booksellers receive instant confirmation that suppliers have received book orders. In the past, booksellers would send their orders and wait for books to arrive at the store. If they didn’t arrive, retailers would have to track down the problem and, often, take more time to place the order again.

With the new ordering software, Worsley says he can instantly see if there’s a problem with the order and avoid the extra time it used to take to stickhandle problems.

According to Michael Neill, creator of BookManager, his system is used by about 325 independent bookstores.

In a recent interview, Neill said he constantly works with his customers to improve the software.

“It’s all . . . streamlined,” Neill said. “It’s all done electronically. The supply chain is very efficient.”


For a quirky and informative explanation of supply chain management, view this video:


But the Canadian book industry’s supply chain wasn’t streamlined by the advent of new software alone — new industry standards were also developed.

And collaboration between many industry players was essential to create those new standards, said Chuck Erion in a recent interview.

Erion and his wife Tricia Siemens started Words Worth Books in 1984. (Upon retiring in 2011, they sold the business to Worsley and Brouse.)

In the late 1990s, Erion and Siemens were in the midst of great technological upheaval in the bookselling business.

The updating of book-ordering standards gave booksellers a lot of detailed information including which publishers and suppliers had books in stock and, if orders weren’t filled, the reasons those orders weren’t filled.

“Being able to see that data on the computer is a huge advantage — so you’re not wasting your time with somebody who doesn’t have [the book],” Erion said. “It’s allowed indies to be on the same playing field as the big [retailers].”

“Chapters could command better performance out of publishers because of their size — we couldn’t,” Erion added. “But if we were all ordering through the same electronic channel, at least — and getting stock position data back and soon — then at least we were closer to competing than we otherwise would have been.”

Hammering out the new industry standards involved the collaboration of many industry players, Erion said.

Among them were two associations that represented publishers and a Chapters information technology staffer. Erion was one of two people representing Canadian booksellers.

Each segment of the industry had different concerns, Erion said, but they recognized that cooperation was essential.

“There was kind of an inevitability about [computerization] that was overcoming rivalries or resistances,” Erion said. “Not that those didn’t crop up.”


Now that new information technology and industry standards have streamlined the supply chain, booksellers also use social media platforms such as Facebook to swap ideas on how to do business more efficiently.

To hear about how Worsley learned how to save money by streamlining book orders from some U.S. publishers, a tip he got from an online booksellers’ forum, listen to the following excerpt of my interview with him.



  • Collaborate with industry partners to identify common goals. In this case study, that meant streamlining the book-ordering process to get books into the hands of customers more quickly.
  • Cooperate with many industry partners to create industry standards. In this case study, partners included two publishers’ associations; independent booksellers and information technology staff at one of the industry’s dominant retailers (Chapters).
  • When tackling industry-wide challenges, make sure that industry associations are at the table (for example, publishers’ and booksellers’ associations as opposed to individual publishers or booksellers who might bog down negotiations).

Contact the author, Mirko Petricevic, at contact.mirko@gmail.com

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