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Marketability eBulletin

Welcome to our latest fortnightly eBulletin, posted here on 10 January 2023. In this issue:

A market research question doomed to fail

I support the excellent charity World Animal Protection. Last month they sent me a postal mailing with a market research questionnaire. It’s good sense to encourage people to complete these by starting with an inviting warm up question, and this was clearly their intention. But how would you answer the following:

Q1: What are the first 3 words that come to mind when you think of World Animal Protection?

Oops. Writing questions for market research is pure copywriting. They need to be completely neutral/unbiased (harder than you think), and impossible to misinterpret. And they must never, ever, lead. The price of getting it wrong is often unusable data.

In this case Q1 may have encouraged people to take part if they couldn’t resist handing back the obvious answer, but this isn’t a tactic I’d recommend.

If you’re curious, find out about World Animal Protection.


Waterstones asking for 85% discount is another reason to support indies

Or maybe this should be called ‘Waterstones, know thyself’?

The bookstore chain continues to have problems with its new warehouse hub, which has forced publishers to deliver direct to branches (at their own expense) to ensure books make it onto the shelves. Then last month Waterstones requested 85% discount on ‘bestselling frontlist titles’ they wanted to include in their January sale.

Quite apart from whether you consider the request justified in any way, coming on top of the problems with the hub means that at the very least it’s insensitive.

Many UK independent bookshops had a good Christmas and I’m sure we all want to support their energy and are glad that they’re there. And when buying online, do remember the excellent, the website that sells books on behalf of independent shops, set up to give us all a viable alternative to Amazon.

Read the Waterstones article on The Bookseller website.


What do the Uffizi Gallery and truck drivers in Maine have in common?

The answer is that both care about punctuation.

The BBC reports that the Uffizi Gallery director has become exasperated by the totally informal style of many of the gallery’s staff, more akin to that of texts and social media and often without punctuation. He has now issued staff with a guide to the Uffizi’s email etiquette.

(This reminded me that a Cambridge University Press client who lives in Italy also finds this tricky. How to reconcile the universally informal communication style of Italy with promoting English language publishing?)

Now those truck drivers. This is a glorious story from 2017. The drivers won a pay dispute worth around $10million – which hinged on a missing comma. Here’s how:

Maine’s law says the following activities do not qualify for overtime pay: ‘The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of: (1) Agricultural produce; (2) Meat and fish products; and (3) Perishable foods.’

The drivers said the lack of a comma between ‘shipment’ and ‘or distribution’ meant the legislation applied only to the single activity of ‘packing’, rather than to ‘packing’ and ‘distribution’ as two separate activities. And because drivers distribute the goods, but do not pack them, they argued they were therefore eligible for overtime pay – backdated over several years. And they won.

The moral of these stories is that punctuation really does matter, but also that we have considerable flexibility with how to deploy it. In the Uffizi case, the director is right that punctuation-free emails are at odds with the international brand of the gallery and its audience’s expectations. And the truck drivers story reminds us that punctuation has a power to change meaning to which we should be constantly alert.

Read the Uffizi story and When rogue punctuation proves costly (which includes more cracking examples), both on the BBC website.


Tip of the week: Do yourself a favour and plan for the unforeseen

April may be the cruellest month, but January runs it a close second as many of us return to work after a Christmas and New Year break. As the deadlines start to bite, this tip deserves to be shared again.

We all have our weekly ‘to do’ lists which look reasonable on Monday. Most of us get to Friday and have achieved only a fraction. (Please don’t tell me I’m alone here.) How much time do you ‘lose’ each week reacting to tasks you couldn’t foresee or plan for? When I, memorably, did a faithful time-log a few years back I discovered it was a staggering 40%. Is there any wonder that I ‘fail’ each week?

The tip is to recognise that this is a fact of working life that is unlikely to change anytime soon. If we planned for four days a week and accepted that the fifth would be entirely devoted to the unforeseeable, wouldn’t that be a step in the right direction?





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