Bookshops: A Nice Dream

Reading & Writing

It’s simple, bookstores. You can’t compete with slashed online prices – we all know that – but you can make the in-store experience unique. We don’t want you to be sexy, we just want you to sell books – a healthy range from many authors, not one from each as if it were a sample. If you were a tailors, we wouldn’t want you to offer only swatches of material. We want to try the pants.

Stop pretending that you also sell music, toys, greetings cards, magazines, iPad covers in faux-leather, board games and all the other ephemeral bits of rubbish we go to other shops for. Remember who you are. You’re not Amazon. You don’t need to sell a garden spade next to a gardening book. We’re not stupid – quite the reverse; we’re smarter than your average punter because WE READ. Hell, we do most of your work for you. Make a name for yourself by having knowledgeable staff and a great range.

Learn from the mistakes of the late unlamented Borders. The only thing they didn’t have was an off-license. No wonder they went bust – you could hardly find the books, which looked like scruffy uncared-for children.

Instead of complaining that Oxfam is stealing your business, open a secondhand section for browsing. You’ll make money. Trust us – we go there for books because we love them, and the more you have, the more we’ll buy. You can double the price of an old Pan paperback from 1964 and if we have loose change in our pockets – we’ll take it and be grateful. Make something out of old books – stock ones with great covers, make them collectable. Let Oxfam keep all the crappy chicklit and serial killer fillers.

You should always remember this; we enter bookshops because we want to buy a book. We don’t need one. We have a stack by our bed and loads more unread on our groaning shelves. It’s like heroin. We search hard for something to buy. I can’t think of any other kind of shopping where the consumer works so damned hard. It actually hurts us to leave a bookshop empty-handed.

In fact, if you can’t sell us a book, you’re a rubbish seller and should be doing something else. Go on, become a traffic warden, join the Young Conservatives, anything other than filling our bookshops with teddy bears.

We can become beloved and popular just by doing the one thing you need to do well. Don’t listen to the reps – stock on your own instincts, experience and knowledge of the area, like Daunt Books does. Trust us. We’ll be right behind you, waiting to pay for the book we didn’t even know we needed. Sell tea and coffee to keep us in there by all means – but we go for one reason, and that’s to look, see, smell and read a bit of the item we might buy.

5 comments on “Bookshops: A Nice Dream”

  1. Dom Conlon says:

    It’s a nice dream and the sort of bookshop I’d prefer to browse in but I get enough of those damn little gift books to know that they do sell, and probably in large quantities. These things are so tested for demand that it’s a fair bet including them isn’t what put Borders out of business. I seem to remember a similar outcry at selling tea and coffee though.

    The idea of embracing the second hand book trade is brilliant. I can see that being a real shot in the arm for smaller bookstores but really, for Waterstones there just isn’t the room. Have you seen how much space those teddy bears take up?

  2. Helen Martin says:

    OH! That is it in a nutshell. (a large nutshell) Forty years ago a friend and I planned the bookstore we wanted to open in 100 Mile House, a small town in the B.C. interior. We planned a wide range of subjects, lots of fiction and some good magazines and comic books. We also would have to stock greeting cards because it was a *very* small town. I know now that it would have been a nightmare because you take Selection A or Selection B where the magazine supplier is concerned and the small numbers would have resulted in higher prices, but we could probably have helped ourselves by having a second hand section we had already decided to have a coffee shop attached to the facility. Forty years ago: how time passes when you’re having fun.

  3. Cid says:

    You, er, you mean trousers, right?

  4. Laughing Boy says:

    What utter nonsense. Clearly you haven’t paid the blindest bit of notice to what is going on in bookselling over the last decade. I spent long enough watching customers walk into a store, ask for a discount, then blithely say it’s cheaper on Amazon/in Tescos. I once was called a thief because we were selling a book at HALF PRICE and Tesco had it FORTY PENCE CHEAPER. You’re living in a world of tweed jackets and fluffy cats purring in front of log fires in bookshops that tie up purchases in brown paper. Customers want things cheap, as soon as possible. You’re in a tiny minority that is catered for by wonderful bookshops such as Daunts and Crockett and Powell. Borders went out of business because of a recession and an ill-advised inventory system. The add-ons accounted for 10% of sales, and even with those the average store stocked around 90,000 different titles, even in the death throes of the company. What a lazy, blinkered piece of writing.

  5. admin says:

    Thank you, Laughing Boy, for your ‘School Of The Bleeding Obvious’ comments. Having a ‘pile ’em high, selling ’em cheap’ approach’ to books killed Borders, along with the fracturing of its identity and hopeless inventory. It would have killed WHSmiths too if they didn’t sell loads of other crap. We know that with books, small and original works better than supermarket-style competition.

    Of course bookshops can’t compete with online – but I’ve been dealing with at least sixty or seventy bookshops that can and do – and make better margins. They have online presence, they call up authors and get them to sign exclusively (I’ve signed over 500 copies for one small shop alone this year). I do this for the US and the UK, and it’s far from being a tiny minority.

    Fine, if you don’t want to see improvements. I shop online for books just as much as anyone else – I’d be an idiot not to – but for specialised services I shop in-store. Foyles at St Pancras sells most of its books as gifts, which has radically changed their selection. It had adapted, which is probably why it won Bookseller Of The Year.

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