How Polare, a Dutch Bookstore, Crushed the Dreams of Many Neil Gaiman Fans

Posted August 13, 2013 by Debby in Book Events, Columns / 39 Comments

Here, ladies and gentlemen, is a different kind of post than you may be used to on Snuggly Oranges. But it is necessary. Because I, and many other readers and fans, are pissed after having been completely screwed over by Polare.

Let’s back up a second though. As you may know, I live in the Netherlands. The Netherlands is, obviously, not a native English speaking country and as such, we don’t get many author events. So as a reader in the Netherlands, I jump at the chance to meet any author. Such a chance presented itself when, roughly a month ago, I discovered that Neil Gaiman would be coming to the Netherlands. Now I had not read his works, but I was definitely planning on it, and I was a fan of him as a person and his work for Doctor Who. So, I obviously had to go.

The Dutch publishing house that is responsible for the Dutch editions of his books set up two interviews + signings, which I found out about on their website: one on August 16th in the evening, in Rotterdam, and one on August 17th, in Utrecht, both in stores of the book selling chain, Polare. Now I had to choose. The 16th is a work day, and while I live in Rotterdam, I would have to race home from Amsterdam and pray that I make it in time… so that wasn’t going to work. I decided to go to the event in Utrecht.

Now on the website of the publishing house, Boekerij, it says that reservations are mandatory and there are limited spots available. However, for information on how to reserve, we had to go to the website of the bookstore, Polare. On Polare Utrecht’s website, (I believe, the site has since changed) it said reservations were advised, but it had no information on how to reserve (whereas for the Rotterdam event Polare Rotterdam, they neatly provided an email address). The bookstore also had a Facebook event for the interview + signing, so I headed on over there to find more information. On this page, multiple times, the bookstore itself was asked whether reservations were necessary and the reply was – no, they expect there will be plenty of room for everyone.

Floor: how can I make a reservation actually?
Polare: Hi Floor, reservations are not necessary! You can just walk into the store. He will be present from 12.00 to 14.00 and will be interviewed, after which he will sign his books. Hopefully see you on August 17th.
Sounds good right? I mean, doubtful about there being enough room and not too many fans to not make this super crowded, but I figured, hey, I’ll get there a couple hours early. Who cares? It’s Neil Gaiman. I will make this happen.

But no.

Polare decided to screw everyone over.

Despite its multiple assurances on Facebook that reservations were absolutely not needed, when I just out of curiosity looked up the event’s website this past Saturday, I saw a whole new kind of message. This one said, “Reservations are mandatory. We are fully booked. Reservations are no longer possible.


I appeared to be one of the first to notice this, and immediately went back to the Facebook event asking Polare what was up. It seemed odd to me. You can’t just suddenly change your mind about reservations being necessary and not alert the fans who had been counting on going to this event for months. You just can’t. There had to be an explanation.

Cue four days of radio silence from Polare.

But during this time, the other fans who had been screwed over began to take notice. And they were upset. Very much upset. One had even booked a flight from Austria to the Netherlands to meet Neil Gaiman. But more horror stories about the depths of this treachery began to appear as well.

Sean: Useful that I first have to sign up via the publisher’s event, then via email with you, then I get an email back saying that reservations are not possible and that the promised reservation has been revoked to later find out that reserving apparently was possible, that the signing is fully booked, and that there was thus also an event on Facebook from Polare itself. Beautiful piece of super bad communication, and this for a bookstore that has hosted Gaiman in the past (with, at that time, also a huge line in the store but luckily I was at the front). A huge and unbelievable underestimation of his popularity by a bookstore chain that wants to be established as a book expert.

Sadly, even on the site, to my knowledge, there was never a specific contact point to make a reservation.

The story more or less continues like this. People had to either be lucky in checking the site just as Polare did decide that reservations were necessary, or go to the store itself and ask them about it to get on the list – which they started quite late apparently, as people who went to the store asking about the event earlier were still met with assurances of, “No reservations necessary!” And that obviously does make it difficult for anyone who does not live in Utrecht itself and would be traveling there especially for this event.

Tuesday evening, Polare finally decided to grace us with a response.

Polare: In regards to Neil Gaiman: our heartfelt apologies! We first thought (naively) that it would be fine if everyone just stopped by. In the past (in the pre-social media age) this worked well by a ton of big authors: including Donna Tartt, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman himself.

Now we realized however, due to the many responses, that it could get out of hand. To keep the event fun and under control (especially SAFETY is our worry), we had to decide to work with reservations. That this caused many people to miss out on the opportunity is very upsetting. But there is really nothing to be done: it is fully booked.
An answer that did not seek a single solution or grant any appeasement. The reason why I will not purchase any books from Polare anymore. (And I am not the only one.) Polare already didn’t have its prices going for it – easily all the books could be found cheaper online. However, I am the kind of reader that is sympathetic to the brick and mortar stores. And Polare has been fairing badly. It used to be Selexyz (which already partnered with other stores to survive) until it merged with de Slegte, the second hand bookstore, in April 2012, in a last ditch effort to stay afloat.

I can only imagine how this feels to lifelong fans of Neil’s work, who have been duped by this travesty of an event planner. This is the point, Polare, this is indeed the social media age. You never thought to use that social media to let the people know when your plans changed? To send a message to all the people who pressed “attending” on the Facebook event, just to keep them informed? Fans had been waiting for this for a month or longer and are now shut out, with no chance of meeting Neil – until the next time he comes around in, oh I don’t know, 10 years. And by still not communicating this well (as now only the active watchers of the Facebook event have seen this go down), many more fans will probably be met with a door slamming in their face this Saturday because their names aren’t on a list they didn’t know existed.

This, Polare, is how you lose your customers.


Update – August 14th, 13:50: Upset fans who tried one last time to call Polare Utrecht for an explanation this morning received a possibly even more disturbing piece of news: the signing was moved to the library next door. This provided SOME more room, but this once again wasn’t communicated well, so by the time they heard about it, the list was full once more. And the icing on the cake: the library can be closed off (whereas the store needed to remain open for other customers) – so now those fans hoping to sneak in anyway will definitely be met with a door slamming in their faces.

This story has since been picked up by a national news outlet.

Update – August 15th, 20:05: The story spread further on Thursday to the physical regional newspaper of De Telegraaf in Utrecht.

Polare has tried to set things right as best they can. They have put up a contest with a chance to win one of five signed copies of The Ocean at the End of the Lane. People from the Facebook event who had sent complaints via the store’s website also finally got replies last night. Some, like me, just got the ‘explanation’ they posted on Facebook copy pasted. Others had an additional little message at the bottom – for the ‘steal’ of 19 euros, they could reserve a signed copy of The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Fans were not pacified, as they specifically only offered Dutch copies of the book signed – and most of them would rather read in English. The prices were another complaint. And why some complainers got this offer while others did not is also something that still remains to be explained. But above all, the fans feel this is not a good enough concession – as what they are really missing out on is the opportunity to meet and speak to Neil Gaiman himself.

But as for me personally, I had emailed Polare Rotterdam over the weekend to see if I could reserve a spot for their event on Friday and was met with the message that it too was full. This afternoon, however, I received an email that “spots had freed up” and if I was interested, I could attend. Whether this is because I was put on a waiting list after my email or because of this post, we’ll probably never know. But fair is fair, props to Polare Rotterdam. They do know how to treat their customers. They do know how to face the social media age. And they should share that knowledge (and their event planning skills) with their sister store, Polare Utrecht.

So I get to meet Neil Gaiman, and that makes me rather happy and excited. However, there is a lingering sense of guilt towards all the other fans, lifelong fans, who don’t get this opportunity. I sympathize with Polare though – there really is no perfect, or even just good, way out of this.

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    39 responses to “How Polare, a Dutch Bookstore, Crushed the Dreams of Many Neil Gaiman Fans

    1. I'll be moving to the Netherlands next year for university, and one of the things I will miss is the frequency of author events that we get in the UK. That really sucks that you had to go through all that, and it's really bad thinking and planning on Polare's part. Pretty disgraceful actually, I can imagine how many people were totally disappointed by that.
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    2. achoquet

      Wow, I heard you mentioning Polare on Twitter earlier, but I honestly had no idea what you were talking about. This is absolutely crazy and stupid though. To flip like that and then to not care about how it affects their customers?! Ridiculous. I would think things are more likely to be unsafe now that they've pissed off a bunch of people, than if they would've just done what they should have. Lame.
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    3. cfiel25

      Though I haven't experienced being on this situation yet, I think it totally sucked. Polare's excuse was pretty lame and I couldn't understand why they have to be so shitty about the reservation or all that safety stuff. The fact that their business is going downhill, they should have been thankful if hordes of fans will mob the store. I mean, they could have done better instead of sending very late jerkass response to the hopefuls.

    4. Wow. What a bunch of unorganized morons with computers, Debby. I am so sorry this happened to you and I would be super pissed. Boooo, Polare. You should make this up to people with at least a gift card or SOMETHING!

    5. joanydvv

      I almost feel lucky for knowing from the start that I wouldn't be able to go on those dates. It spared me a lot of dissapointment. What a horrible way to treat your potential customers and fans.

    6. You know I actually never heard of Polare before all this crap happened? Anyway, I will never ever ever go there now. What a way to treat Neil Gaiman fans. I'm still super pissed and I just can't believe they acted like this. Sure, reservations are fine. It sucks if people can't go but at least that'd mean you KNEW you had to be quick. This? No comment or communication whatsoever. That's unprofessional and not how you communicate with fans (and people in general). That's what bothers me most. Also that this is probably THE ONLY CHANCE we would ever get to meet someone like Neil Gaiman. I'm so very glad you wrote this post and especially that it's being taken seriously. Blegh. I hate that they didn't handle this better. Morons.

      (I'm still excited about the NRC article though!!!)
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    7. How awful! I am so sorry! These people are clearly idiots. Maybe all the attention this mess is getting will lead to them reorganizing at a larger venue? Maybe that's just wishful thinking but I hope it somehow works out for you.

    8. Stormy

      Ugh. So sorry you had to deal with that. Just BAD business practice all around. They can apologize all they want, but it really should have never happened in the first place. THAT=not treating their customers with good service.(Awful service, actually).

    9. chrysrawr

      I saw your anger on Twitter earlier, so admittedly I went to your Goodreads to see why this Polare book had you so. HAHA. Okay. Serious face now. I am so upset that this happened to you. I live outside the US for now, so author events never happen. I am not a Gaiman fan, as I have not read his work, but I know he is one of *the* authors. So even if he came to Belize, I'd go just to say I did LOL. But still…what they did was so douchebaggy. Their press release was so awful too. Like come on, you want to blame social media? Grr. Talk about retrogression. I am so sorry that happened to you! Thanks for sharing though!

    10. Really? I mean, the moving to the Netherlands part is cool! What will you be studying?

      Yeah, as far as I know this is the first big author visit of the year. Last year we had Tahereh Mafi, Ransom Riggs, and I believe John Green. But that's about it. We don't get them often.

      This has been getting its fair share of media attention, so now one can hope that Polare will learn from this – and better yet, that publishing houses will look to other locations for planning such events.

    11. Aren't they? I went there last week just to browse and they had a buy one get one half off sale and even with that the prices didn't compare to what you could find online. It's just sad. So I don't feel bad at all now that they've given me a reason not to shop there anymore.

    12. 19 Euros is a lot of money for a short book. O_O That's a horrid concession. I mean, signed books are nice, but not that much better than any other book if you didn't get to meet the author or have a story behind it. Also, how much would that book be normally? Is 19 Euros at least an increased discount or are they just being given first crack at an overpriced finished copy in Dutch?
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    13. Well with space restriction, it's like… I get it. It's understandable. You don't want people pushing and shoving, and you don't want the whole store so packed that the signing will last until 10 pm. But they really just needed the foresight to see this coming. What upsets me is that the corporate head office didn't have some kind of regulations about this – Rotterdam organized it well (and they have MORE space than Utrecht) while Utrecht totally failed. I mean.. that's bad business. That's what they need to fix.

    14. I agree, their eventual answer could have been a lot more sympathetic. What they could have done, and maybe should have done, is explain the different options they looked into and why each one wasn't possible. That would have shown that they really did want to fix it and find a solution that would make everyone happy, but that they failed. Honesty and openness like that would be met with a better response than what they put out there. But I do totally understand that there probably is no way out – limited space is limited space, and apparently Neil Gaiman has some time constraints as well.

    15. Well I get to go to the event in Rotterdam, I heard today. So I guess.. I did get something out of it ^^; when you complain the loudest, you get results. I still feel guilty for the other fans though. *sigh*

    16. Bianca (ArwenElora)

      No 19 euro's is the same price as bol.com (dutch version of amazon sort of) for the dutch version. Their original version is 15 euro's btw @ sander Thanks for sharing my pin 😀

      De Project X opmerking was weer echt sensatie zoeken van de Telegraaf :s maar ja er wordt over gepraat/geschreven.

    17. Yeah, fans have now brought up that last point as well, but I think it's probably just too late to really throw the plans around and come up with a plan that will make everyone happy. *sigh* hopefully they'll learn from this, and hopefully Gaiman will come back at some point.

    18. Haha, really? Well Polare just got its new name back in June or so, so I don't blame you. It's just Selexyz + De Slegte though. AND WE DON'T NEED IT ANYWAY. We have ABC and Waterstone's 😀 😀 😀

      What bothers me is that there was no corporate policy for this – which resulted in Rotterdam doing everything right and Utrecht doing everything wrong. I mean, as a business person, that's something they need to fix ASAP.

      🙂

    19. I think it's probably to late to reorganize. =/ Well, it worked out for me since now I can go to the event in Rotterdam, but there are still MANY disappointed fans.

    20. Exactly. Hopefully they'll have good discussions about it at their corporate office and just never let this happen again. They need a policy for all events so that they are consistent across stores.

    21. xD you thought it was a book oh how adorable xD Aw man, Belize, that must be awful. We still manage to get around two authors per year, I suppose, so I guess I should count myself lucky. Same for me! I have not read Gaiman yet and I feel pretty guilty about that, but I'll be fixing it sooooon 🙂

    22. Well I get to go to the event in Rotterdam now, so that's something. Sadly, due to this whole mess, I put off reading Stardust though, so now I'll be the n00b at the event who hasn't read any of his books yet. I'll just hide in shame. *cough* FAKE IT TILL YOU MAKE IT

    23. Book prices here are ridiculous in the first place. I went into their store a while ago and I think even the english version was 15 euros, possibly higher. The Stardust copy I bought off amazon was 12 euros I think, and I saw that in the store for… 25 or even 30 I believe. They squeeze every penny out of their customers.

      19 euros is the standard price for the Dutch edition though – and that's what kind of disgusts me, that they don't even offer the book at a discount. Come on. You made a mistake, do the customers a favor, forgo your margin for once.

    24. Ja, snap ik, de Telegraaf lees ik absoluut niet vooral om dat soort opmerkingen. Zucht. Maar inderdaad, goed dat dit wel wat aandacht krijgt. Dat mag wel, vind ik. En langzamerhand leert Polare er wel wat van.

    25. Sander Hendriks

      @Bianca oh cool that was yours! Thank you so much for uploading, I was supposed to get an e-mail with the article from the journalist but it never arrived and then a friend of mine linked your pin and I was all happy haha. It was a really short interview but atleast it got more attention. Kind of crazy all I did was write Neil a message to let him know I and a lot of fans were disappointed but I wanted to make sure he knew nobody blamed him, and that I wanted to thank him trough Facebook atleast for all the joy he has given me over the years. Apparently some people noticed when he responded to me and a journalist wanted my opinion O.o

    26. Sander

      Ja dat is inderdaad wel een beetje opgeblazen die uitspraak, ik denk niet echt dat klanten van een boekenwinkel die teleurgesteld zijn te vergelijken zijn met dronken tieners die een heel dorp in puin willen leggen lol. Ik heb in ieder geval alleen maar aangegeven wat in het artikel als quote van mij staat en nog wat dingen over Neil zelf en waarom ik hem bewonder. Ik heb bewust niet gekozen voor galspuwen op Polare of herrie te schoppen want daar schiet niemand wat mee op. Dat is sowieso wat ik in eerste instantie naar Neil schreef dat ik geen actie ging eisen of woedend was maar gewoon teleurgesteld en hem toch wou bedanken voor zijn creaties. Ik vind het in trouwens wel fijn om te horen dat jij nu wel kan gaan naar Rotterdam, ik gun het jou en iedereen van harte en hoop dat het een mooie ervaring zal zijn 🙂

    27. I feel sorry for Neil Gaiman. I just saw that the Rotterdam event has more like 250-300 people instead of the original 150 limit. And it sounds like he's still signing for everyone but without dedications to spare his hand.

      He's being his usual kindly self towards his fans because there's no way that increase would've happened without his approval (and even instigation). I just wish he didn't have to make up for the screw up. Goodness knows how much he's going to have to do in Utrecht tomorrow. :-/
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    28. Rotterdam was about 175 probably, little more than they had intended. Some things COULD have been done a little different/better (I do tour management, event organising etc) but all in all it was a nice evening. Signing took a while but I went home with 2 signed books and a nice portrait.

      Polare Utrecht missed out and I hope they do a good job tomorrow.

    29. Been to Utrecht today and they changed the rules again. Apparently everybody showing up was allowed in but if you had a reservation you could sit. I think there where about 200 people in the end. Neil did an interview and read some from his book. After he signed all the books of these people for about 2 hours.
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    30. JerryM

      Polare Rotterdam didn't have that many UK hardcovers anyway (only 16 on display, more in the back but you had to ask for those, and people didn't know you could). So glad I bought one when I went to the store earlier in the day to check it out…

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