Independent bookshops 'need to offer more'

By Tim Masters
Arts and entertainment correspondent, BBC News

Image source, PA
Image caption,
The Great Bookshop Debate was held at the new Foyles store in London

Independent bookshops need to make readers feel special in order to compete in the internet age, say book trade experts.

"The future of independent bookshops is not about selling books," said writer and digital consultant Nicholas Lovell.

"They'll do it by selling to people the 'idea' of being a reader."

His comments came during The Great Bookshop Debate in London, a key event of Independent Booksellers Week, which ends on Saturday.

Lovell, author of The Curve - a book about how to make money when everything is going free - said that small bookshops should exploit the idea that books were "about status and self-expression and personality".

"If you think of books as just being something to read, then the Kindle does it," he told the literary gathering at Foyles bookshop on Wednesday night.

Jasper Sutcliffe, head of buying at Foyles, said bookshops "just can't be a book shop any more".

"They need to offer so much more - the bespoke service that booksellers give, the events, the signings, the added value - and we look to publishers to help."

Robert Hiscox, co-owner the White Horse Bookshop in Marlborough, Wiltshire, and founder of Hiscox Insurance, drew parallels with starting an insurance business.

"If you're very small you've got to offer something to get people to use you - you're not going to be the cheapest," he said. "It's the same in a bookshop - who's going to pay £20 in the shop when you are going to get it for 11 quid on Amazon?

"The answer is someone who comes to the shop gets intelligent service from the staff - it's like an atmospheric book club."

According to The Booksellers Association, 67 independent bookshops closed in the UK in 2013, while 26 new shops opened.

Last week, best-selling author James Patterson announced he was giving £250,000 to independent bookshops in the UK and Ireland to help boost literacy for young readers.

He said independent sellers needed to be "more aggressive" in their sales tactics.

Speaking at Wednesday's debate, Kate Gunning, of publisher Penguin Random House, noted a rise in requests from bookshops for author events and other "social elements" in the the last five years.

"Bookshops that provide a community for people to subscribe to are the ones that will go forward," she predicted.

Author Mark Forsyth said: "A great favour that the internet trade has done to bookshops is... it's excluded the bad books.

"The advent of e-books has made book covers way more beautiful. They have to be objects that we want to buy.

"Bookshops haven't looked this pretty for 100 years."

Related Internet Links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.