Since the abolition of the Net Book Agreement, independent bookshops have struggled to compete on price with chain bookshops, and more recently, supermarkets and online retailers. Unable to buy in the quantity of larger, national retailers, and, consequently, facing much tougher margins on high-volume titles, some independent booksellers have been rethinking their strategy when deciding on the titles they choose to stock.
Shelf space is at a premium for most independent bookshops, and so devoting valuable display and shelf space to heavily promoted books, that are on sale at a discounted price elsewhere, may not be the wisest move for the smaller stores.
As a result, a lot of indie booksellers are now turning this situation to their advantage and instead choosing to stock titles unlikely to be found on the bookshelves of supermarket and some chain stores – many tailoring their stock to the more eclectic tastes of their local customers and offering greater choice in their communities. Independent bookshops now have the luxury of choice.
Nic Bottomley, owner of Mr B’s Reading Emporium, in Bath, tells Oh, for the Love of Bookshops about his decision to actively support more unusual titles.
Nic said: “We hope to offer a wide range of things, so that amongst the things you do know about, there will also be something you’re not expecting to find.”
Mr B’s is very close to a Waterstones and a WH Smith and Nic said this has given him a freedom in selecting the titles they choose to stock, and also in deciding those that have to be less heavily promoted in store.
“There are certain books that you don’t need to sell, there’s no point in us selling and giving loads of space to comedian, or comedienne, biographies, or celebrity biographies. We will sell a handful of these titles, WH Smith will sell thousands, but they will sell thousands at a big discount. There’s no point in me competing on discount, it’s something that went out as an idea so long ago that there’s no way you can survive doing that,” said Nic.
“So as a result, I’ve got the luxury of not selling a whole load of stuff that we’re not going to be hand selling, which leaves space for more oddball titles. We focus on certain niches, but we change those niches according to what goes down well with customers,” he said.
This freedom to try new things is exciting for Nic and his team, as well as for his customers.
Nic said: “When I look at titles I get a pretty good feeling of what will capture people’s interest, not always, and some stuff really takes you by surprise, and that’s the fun of bookselling.”
Anne Sebba, chair of the Society of Authors, maintains it is vital for independent bookshops to survive to continue to enrich the variety of books available to book-lovers.
Anne said: “What we don’t want is Amazon doing it all – selling, producing, reviewing – because that will limit the market. We’ve all got to work together, and that means standing up and fighting for bookshops, because we want to make sure there is as much choice as possible. Bookshops play a huge part in offering that choice.”
The freedom of choice in stock can be empowering for independent bookshops, fun for booksellers, and the route to serendipitous discoveries for book-lovers.
What are your thoughts? Does your bookshop benefit from the luxury of choice?