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Bookshops matter

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The video above is a really lovely little stop-motion animation celebrating physical books in a physical bookshop

On 7 February 2013, the BBC Radio 4 programme, The Bottom Line, was about the book trade. Agent, Jonny Geller; head of HarperCollins, Vicky Barnsley; and Michael Tamblyn, now chief content officer at ereading service and device company, Kobo, were interviewed by Evan Davis. About 12 minutes into the programme (and you can still listen to it by downloading it here), Evan Davis said, “When we look at the three roles… am I wrong to say that one of you is surplus to requirements?”.

A month later at the Independent Publishers Guild conference, Philip Jones quoted Stephen Page’s comment that there was a lot of cross-dressing going on in the industry between agents, publishers and booksellers, but Philip added that it seemed to him that “booksellers were slow to remove their clothes”. Actually, I was thinking that all of us are slow to remove our clothes, in that we are happy to take on other roles (Amazon becoming a publisher, publishers selling direct to consumers, agents publishing ebooks of their clients’ backlists… but none of us wants to give up any part of our existing role.

Agents, publishers and etailers are all working out their role in the new world of online selling and digital content, but there is a growing focus on the sector that’s been cast as the Cinderella of the whole book industry: the bricks-and-mortar bookshop. There is, too, a proper recognition of its crucial role in introducing readers, particularly child readers, to books.

While children’s book sales through physical bookshops are still relatively robust, and while ebook sales for children is a market that is proving slow to grow (just 2% of the children’s books sold in the UK last year were ebooks), bricks-and-mortar bookshops cannot sustain themselves by children’s book sales alone.

Tom wrote a blog post about what bookshops should be prompted by Foyles investigation into the subject.

And our Stories Aloud initiative was partly inspired by a desire to offer independent bookstores a way of offering digital content (in this case, a digital audio file with a voice reading of the whole book, sound effects and specially-composed music) to their customers in a “bundle” with the book.

Today, there’s a report in The Bookseller on new research by Bowker Market Reasearch adn Enders Analysis that underlines the importance of bricks and mortar bookshops.to publishing and confirms their role in enabling readers to discover books.

The data, presented at the Books and Consumers conference on Wednesday, emphasised the importance of physical book shops in the discovery of children’s books for 0-12 year-olds, where the request of the child remains the strongest purchase prompt: 41% of children’s book spend in 2012 happened in bookshops, and 24% happened in other kinds of bricks-and-mortar shops.

The link to The Bookseller piece is here.

As the piece says, both Douglas McCabe of Enders Analysis, and Jo Henry of Bowker Market Research agreed on the crucial role of bookshop browsing. Enders Analysis estimates that serendipity and discovery generate as much as two-thirds of UK general book sales, much of this down to bookshops. ‘There is almost nothing that can be done to sustain the health of the network of bookshops that should be collectively considered too extravagant,’ McCabe said. ‘Without bookshops, publishing would have to rethink its model at every level.’

Jo Henry estimated that physical booksellers were responsible for the discovery of some 21% of all consumer book purchases in 2012, representing £450m in value. A total of 45% of purchases where the buyer hadn’t yet decided what to buy were made through bricks-and-mortar shops.

But the research showed a higher number of books being bought from internet-only businesses than from bricks-and-mortar stores for the first time in 2012 and consumers who bought e-books also bought more of their physical books through internet retailers, suggesting that when readers move to buying e-books they also switch from bookshops to e-tailers to buy their physical books.

So if you value your local bookshop, buy your books there.

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No Responses to “Bookshops matter”

  • I couldn’t agree more – real contact with real booksellers has proved invaluable for my children’s interest in books. Without a human bookseller we wouldn’t have discovered the following:

    Studio Ghibli do graphic novels – Gosh comics Bewick St.
    The books of Frank Cottrell Boyce – Ex Libris, Bradford on Avon
    The books of Philip Reeve – Toppings, Bath
    The books of Marcia Williams – Ex Libris
    Big Nate, before Big Nate was big – Mr B’s, Bath
    Stephen Biesty ‘s cross sections, Waterstones

    I could go on.
    Nothing can replace the knowledge of a bookseller. If anyone wants to see what a really good bookshop can offer – I would really recommend a visit to Toppings or Mr B’s in Bath.
    They are like sweet shops of expertise and content.
    Long may they and those like them flourish.

  • Ah, brings back memories of coming home from Uni and mum saying, “Have you brought another bag of dirty books home?” I spent hours in a second hand book shops in Liverpool buying dog-eared DH Lawrence and age stained Stella Gibbons for 50p. I bought hundreds of books and the seller had a vast knowledge and could get any book. Couldn’t afford to buy them new which is why mum referred to them as my ‘dirty books’! Nowadays I miss Saturday afternoons in Borders with kids, coffee and the freedom to browse and choose books at leisure. And buying on line can never replicate the real joy of hands on in a little independent bookshop.

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