Tag Archives: books

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?

Leave a Comment

Filed under The Way Forward for Bookshops

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.

Leave a Comment

Filed under The Way Forward for Bookshops

Collaboration is a Smart Move for Bookshops

O4lob CollaborationLast week, Legend Press launched their ‘Think Independent’ campaign, a move highlighting the independent publisher’s support for independent bookshops.

Speaking to The Bookseller, Tom Chalmers, MD of Legend Press said: “As an independent and innovative publisher we are keen to work closely with independent bookshops. The two should be a natural fit, but often find themselves fighting the same battles separately. The aim of Think Independent is to ensure both publishers and bookshops remain independent but have greater strength through partnership.”

Talking to Oh, for the Love of Bookshops today, Nic Bottomley, the ‘Mr B’ of award-winning Mr B’s Reading Emporium, in Bath, agreed that maintaining a dialogue with publishers, booksellers and authors was a key factor in offering customers something different when looking to enhance the experience of book buying in a bookshop.

Nic said: “I think it’s very important to communicate with publishers, booksellers and authors all the time. It always leads to fun stuff and generally it’s really rewarding, financially as well eventually.”

Championing The Howling Miller, by Finnish author Arto Paasilinna, Mr B’s commissioned a limited hardback edition of the title – all 300 copies have been sold.

Speaking about The Howling Miller, Nic said: “We designed our own cover for this book and this was a collaboration with Canongate. I think it needed to be Canongate because they are the most inventive and creative publisher, so they were the perfect people to do the first one with. Then we did the same thing with Orion for that great British thriller ‘Rogue Male’.”

Customers of Mr B’s loved the idea of owning an edition of a great title that was only available through their bookshop. Visitors to the renowned bookshop also benefit from another imaginative collaborative enterprise. One shelf of the Mr B’s is always dedicated to titles suggested by another bookshop. Invited booksellers from all over the world submit a list of books that they love, or that are selling well in their own stores.

“We used Blackwells in Oxford briefly last summer and one of the books they suggested was a book about mindfulness,” said Nic.

“That happened to be an area where we had poor knowledge and therefore a very small range – suddenly we sold 60 copies of this mindfulness book, just by having it around and on display. We’re learning all the time, and we realised that there was an untapped desire for books like that amongst our customers.”

Building relationships with publishers, other bookshops and authors can lead to exciting developments that result in building better relationships with your customers. Collaborations are a smart move for bookshops.

Leave a Comment

Filed under The Way Forward for Bookshops

Legend Press Launches the Think Independent Campaign in support of Independent Bookshops

Last week, Legend Press launched their Think Independent campaign, highlighting the independent publisher’s commitment to supporting independent bookshops.

Teach Her by Mark Knotting, part of the Think Independent campaign

Teach Her by Mark Kotting, part of the Think Independent campaign by Legend Press

100 independent bookshops received complimentary copies of Teach Her, the new book by Channel 4 and BBC comedy writer, Mark Kotting, along with postcards and other promotional material. Booksellers were then free to do what they wanted with their copies – sell them, review them, or use them as part of a promotional campaign of their own.

Teach Her was the first of the Legend Press titles to be distributed as part of the campaign, but others will follow throughout the summer.

Speaking to the The Bookseller, Tom Chalmers MD of Legend Press said: “As an independent and innovative publisher we are keen to work closely with independent bookshops.  The two should be a natural fit, but often find themselves fighting the same battles separately. The aim of Think Independent is to ensure both publishers and bookshops remain independent but have greater strength through partnership.”

Teach Her was released on 1st May priced at £7.99

Legend Press Publicity director, Lucy Chamberlain can give further details to any independent bookshop keen to get involved via lucychamberlain(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)legend-paperbooks.co.uk

Leave a Comment

Filed under News

The Last Bookshop – a short film

This is a delightful short film about an imagined future where books no longer exist. I truly hope it is not prophetic.

What are your thoughts?  Could this be the future for bookshops, and books?The Last Bookshop

For further information about the film and it’s creators, go to The Last Bookshop

Leave a Comment

Filed under YouTube

Children’s Bookselling breaks out of the dark, dingy corners – good news for everyone!

I will never forget the irritating squeaky squeal of the ‘steering wheel’ on the book truck that was Dillons’ nod to children’s bookselling when I worked at Dillons Bookstore, in Exeter, back in the early 1990s.

More than one bookseller marched up to the truck, screwdriver in hand, driven to distraction by the awful noise and determined to fix the problem. Over the many years I worked there, no one could extinguish the ear-splitting squeal.

Of course, small children loved the truck – but they rarely looked at the books jammed into the shelves that made the rear of the truck. I can’t say I blame them. The poor design of the shelving resulted in dog-eared, battered and sorry-looking picture books – impossibly jostling for attention. On top of the exciting ride-on truck cab, complete with adult-annoying squeaky steering wheel, and unappealing tatty books, the children’s department was banished to the furthest, darkest corner of the bookshop, with no natural light. This area was not conducive to a considered appreciation of books. Children and parents alike, made quick trips to the department whipping in to collect a particular book, or, even worse, leaving exasperated at failing to find something. Nothing about this area of the shop encouraged browsing – an activity vital in choosing a book for a child, and, more importantly, fundamental in encouraging children to choose their own books and nurture a love of reading.

Forward on twenty years, and things are delightfully different for the children’s department in the same store. Dillons no longer exist and the store is now a Waterstones. The children’s department now takes pride of place in half of the back of the ground floor, the blacked out windows have been opened up and the store shines in it’s appeal to its younger customers – the book-lovers of the future. Picture books are sensibly displayed on tables and custom-designed shelves. A low-level inviting seating area has been set up around a table – perfect for looking through possible purchases. Most significantly, the area has been designed for children and looks distinctly different from the rest of the shop. Unlike the uniform grey shelves of the Dillons store, the children’s department at Waterstones Roman Gate, is white, bright and created with children in mind.

My children love this store, they happily browse the shelves and take the books they like to the table to help them decide what to buy. I love this department, my children are happy here, we take the time together to look at the books – I make selections, they invariably choose something else, but I love that. They are making their own decisions,  they are developing their own love of books.

It is great to see such a positive change in children’s bookselling, plus, I’ve never seen the department empty – which surely means good news for the business of bookselling too. Dedicated children’s bookshops are bucking the trend against bookshop closures, they are taking the time to meet the needs of their customers, and reaping the benefits.

I wonder if the application of this ethos could be more widely adopted in bookshops…

Leave a Comment

Filed under Children's Bookselling

Is it time to rethink the Paper vs Digital reading debate?

In a bold statement to the Oxford literary festival last month, Tim Waterstone voiced his opinion that the e-book revolution is going into decline, and the physical book was not going to disappear into obscurity.

Figures from the US last year appeared to suggest that e-book sales were plateauing, a fact perhaps welcomed by James Daunt, managing director of Waterstones, in defence of his decision to sell e-readers and e-books through his stores.

I think anyone who loves books will be glad to hear that the digital reading revolution will not hit the critical tipping point against traditional paper books, and the love of books in their physical form endures.

In 2013, British consumers spent £300 million on 80 million e-books compared with £2.2 billion on 323 million physical books.

But the technology is here, and it is here to stay. Is it time to stop pitting e-books against traditional books and accept there are pros and cons to both forms and a place for both for many book-lovers. Can the digital revolution be seen as a cleansing ‘ice age’ of the bookselling industry, as we emerge through the other side with a more harmonious balance between booksellers and consumers? Is now the time, for bookshops and publishers to rethink the paper vs digital debate, and perhaps question how best traditional bookselling and e-book selling might be combined for a brighter future for all?

In an post for the Guardian Books Blog, Nick Harkaway suggests “Rather than circling the wagons as other media industries did (to no good outcome, it has to be acknowledged) publishers need to learn the more recent lessons from film and music and consider, for example, providing digital copies as standard with hardback editions”

This would seem to me to be a very sensible approach. The paper vs digital debate would now (or imminently) seem to be redundant, and perhaps the question for booksellers should be ‘how can we sell paper books and e-books together?’


Leave a Comment

Filed under E-books