Sunday, 17 March 2013

Sunday Salon - Book Stores & Survival

During the week a fellow blogger - BookTalk wrote a post following a recent business trip to the UK from the US. In that post the author expressed the view that books in the UK were expensive.

I commented with a similar thought following a recent trip to Australia and gave the example of:
"I was in a bookstore in Geelong (Victoria). There had a hardback size paperback edition of the wonderful The End of your Life Book Club for AU$37, now that was about £28 – hugely expensive for a paperback even if it is hardback size. Because of weight issue for the flight home I only bought 2 books and one of those I had purchased whilst in the UK and collected when downunder, so I noted the book title down. Back home I nipped onto Amazon and bought the hardback edition of this book for £6.38"
That gave rise to further considerations and whilst I posted a follow up to that thread at BookTalk, which you can read HERE I thought it would be a great post for Sunday Salon.

When the UK supermarkets started to sell books, they did so at reduced prices and there was almost an out cry. The books, often best sellers were at reduced prices – a paperback chart topper retailing in Waterstones with a recommended price of say £7.99 – 10.99 was on sale in Tesco for £3.86. The prices have gone up in the supermarkets more recently, but are still cheaper.

That said there is little appeal of book buying along with toilet rolls and a loaf of bread compared with the wonders of browsing (and hopefully buying) in a bookstore. Even though there is less appeal I have done it, tempted by the latest book of a particular author as way of offsetting the whole grocery shopping chaos.

Have I mentioned I hate queues, crying children and people who are pushing trolleys with wonky wheels and then stop in front of me to reach something from a shelf. There is something about supermarkets that turn reasonable, sweet elderly ladies & occasionally gents into violent, trolley pushing individuals. I know I am Mrs Grumpy!

In order to survive, bookstores need to diversify slightly – book marks, notebooks, cards and bookish items and be competitive. Bookstores need to gain back their zip factor, the thing that makes someone want to go into a shop and mooch about. In that mooching they may discover a book they feel that they can not manage without. At under a fiver (£5) they might purchase and if the book does not deliver well, it was cheap enough. At the price of books that are over the £7 mark people think twice. I know this because I have done it, and the moment you start to question yourself the book heads back to the shelf, where it probably remains. 

In the past I have worked for a major retailer - not books but a chain well known on the High Street. I often had to attend meetings at one of the larger stores which was located 3 doors up from a Waterstones. I would often arrive in this town early to spend an hour browsing the shelves at Waterstones and then head off to the meeting. A favourite was a meeting on late shopping day when I could spend time browsing without fear of being late! I nearly always left with a carrier bag with at least one book. Whilst I no longer work for that company and rarely go to that town I make no attempt to seek out Waterstones for a special trip because they have lost their zip factor.

On line bookstores have come along and all of a sudden that market share has reduced. A few years ago I was given a Waterstones voucher. I managed to purchase 4 books with the money and added a couple of pounds to complete the purchase. I can't remember if I paid for delivery. I do remember the wait for the books, of at least 3 weeks. There had been no indication that a wait was likely. Those same books had I been able to purchase from Amazon would have left me enough money to buy a 5th book and half a 6th! Included free delivery and would have been with me within a week. Waterstones, wakey wakey! 

If the major retailers can not cope with the competition, how do the independent booksellers? The independents have a significant advantage. They have no corporate image to maintain. No central head office with planning the store and the stock done from behind a desk. Independents have the ease to diversify and to do it tastefully and in doing so appeal to perhaps another type of purchaser who perhaps will become a devoted shopper.

The keys elements to get people through the door and buying are
  • Window appeal - bright, clean and a wow factor
  • Stock presented nicely
  • a friendly, cosy feel
  • Pricing
  • good service
  • staff going the extra mile
If booksellers can do those things then they have a chance of remaining in our towns providing a great service and shopping environment, if they can't well the doors close and Amazon gets another slice of the market share.


  1. a pertinent post Julie. I think all of us now weigh up the relevqnt benefits of how/when and where we buy books. Because many of the serious books I read aren't available here I often buy online and save heaps. with less "durable" books I settle for ebooks. No they're not quite the same but i still get lost in them, and don't need to keep expansing our bookcasea. For me an appealing bookatore outing definitely includes peaceful music, and possibly an adjacent coffee shop:-)

    I smiled about your work/shopping trips. It was always "fatal" to "just go for a wander" to the uni bookshop in my lunch hour :-)

  2. sorry about my ipad typos

  3. Lovely post with important tips! I wish my little town had a wonderful book store. We do have one, but it's a chain and it's so impersonal :(

  4. Food for thought, Julie, or words for weighing... I don't actually buy a lot of books other than for gifts, but when I do, I use The Book Depository from UK, much cheaper generally and free international delivery, or Booktopia if online here. To wander through a bookstore is always something I've loved.. nowadays, with coffee instore..... for that I love Riverbend at Bulimba, or The Book Cafe at Garden City ( suburbs for Pauleen's next visit) but for buying regular new books... it would be QBD or Big W... both have prices way under the others for popular authors...
    (iPads have a mind of their own I'm sure Pauleen...)

  5. Good thoughts!! I do hope bookstores survive. I know what draws me in to my neighborhood Barnes & Noble (here in the U.S). The adjacent coffee shop that promotes coffee drinking and reading. I often bring my own book in to read, but before I leave, I invariably browse in this friendly atmosphere, and often leave with a book or magazine. Usually at a bargain price, but I've left with a purchase nonetheless.

    I don't like buying books in the supermarket. Not my favorite place for perusing them!


  6. A lot can be said about the staff going the extra mile. A friend and I were talking yesterday about how turned off we are if we go into a book store and the staff doesn't want to spend the time to even listen to us. If we say "I want ..." and start the state a title, it's rude if the clerk interrupts us and says "we don't have that." LISTENING is key. So I think it's important to hire people in book stores that are actually passionate about selling books - not just about reading them (or being paid).

    My Sunday Salon


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