Tag Archives: Anne Sebba

Independent Bookshops Have the Luxury of Choice…

Bookshop assistantSince 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?

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Sell the ‘Experience’ of buying books in a Bookshops

O4lob open signVery few people would describe buying books online as an ‘experience’, in contrast, there is a magic about stepping into a bookshop that bricks and mortar booksellers should capitalize on to ensure their survival.

Next time you are in a bookshop, take a moment to look around you (unless it is at the height of a Christmas shopping frenzy), and you will see a calmness, a sedateness, that just doesn’t happen in other retail environments. I have two young children and most of our high street shopping is undertaken at breakneck speed, in an effort to get out of town as quickly as possible. This is not the case when we go into a bookshop.  We take our time, we look around, we excitedly show each other the treasures we have found, and, on more than one occasion, we have been late back to the car as time just drifted by.

This is the magic of a good bookshop. These are very challenging times for booksellers and those that are thriving are working hard to create an environment that people want to spend time in.

Anne Sebba, chair of the Society of Authors, agrees that bookshops have to look to offer something that enhances a visit to the bookshop.

“Bookshops have to be gift shops, perhaps have coffee bars. Bookshops have to turn themselves into an experience,” said Anne.

“Going in to a bookshop has to be a positive experience. They have to offer something that you can’t get online. There is nothing quite like the joy of watching a child in a bookshop as they discover that turning the pages is a really exciting thing. We will be impoverished as a society if we lose that as an experience.”

Gone are the days when the only place to buy books was from a high street bookshop, where bookshops jammed shelves into every available space in an attempt to meet a wide range of customer needs.  As a result, many bookshops are taking the brave decision to remove some of their shelving in the desire to create a more appealing environment. My own local Waterstones is testament to this. In removing some of the floor-standing shelving the store has lost that slightly-claustrophobic, maze-like quality to be replaced with an open, comfortable space that encourages a natural meandering throughout the shop.

But bookshops need to look beyond the physical environment in creating inviting spaces for people. Nic Bottomley, owner the award-winning Mr B’s Reading Emporium, in Bath, knew from the outset that they wanted to do things differently and in a fresh way.

Nic said: “We hope to offer a space in which being a book geek is seen as a good thing, where books are up for discussion and are at the centre of everything.”

It was important for Mr B’s to be a beautiful physical space, but the team found that the things they spent time on to enhance the experience of visiting the bookshop really struck a chord with their customers.

“We found, to our pleasant surprise, that the more things we did differently, and the more small calculated risks we took in how we did things, more people were coming through our doors, and that gave us the confidence to keep adding to the odd things that we did, and to be more esoteric in our approach.”

Mr B’s has a very hands-on approach to bookselling including introducing Mr B’s Reading Spa, where customers can book one-on-one time with one of their booksellers who will suggest a range of titles based of the personal reading tastes of the customer. This personal style of bookselling has paid dividends for the bookshop.

Nic said: “We have created a place that the people of Bath, and regular visitors of Bath, really enjoying spending time in, and as a side-effect spending money in, but it’s somewhere that people feel extremely passionate about and that’s our key success.

“I think everyone needs to think about what they can do that helps sell the experience of buying a book. By doing that, by offering something that’s a little bit different, and by creating a beautiful shop where everyone is welcome, it will help you compete with online sales. It’s about high street versus non-high street.”

Bookshops need to look at selling the unique experience they can offer in the battle to remain on our high streets.

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