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Bookshops Rise Again

February 12th, 2016

Bookstore-Indie-blogA few years ago bookshops were in decline and everyone was telling us that paper books were finished, but it now seems to be going the other way.

Over in China dangdang.com, a huge online retailer, is planning to open 1000 new bookshops across the country, following the launch of its first outlet in Changsha City, Hunan.

After 20 years of online sales, Amazon opened its first real-world bookstore recently in Seattle’s University Village. It’s stocked with 6000 books at the same price as they can be bought on the website and I suspect that the roll-out will continue if it proves profitable.

Richard Mollet, Chief Executive of the Publishers Association, was quoted as saying “…even Amazon has seen the benefit of a physical browsing experience”.  (Though, you’ve got to admit, he does make it sound rather sterile!)

I think there’s been a real resurgence in the desire for physical books. You only need to look around: there are boxes of second hand books at my doctor’s surgery that you can take for a donation; there are more stalls than ever on my local market selling books; charity shops are full of choice and diversity.  But I still think that your average, independent bookshop is struggling. On one side they have to compete with the online retailers and the big boys, and on the other side there’s competition from the second-hand trade. So unless they’ve got a USP (unique selling point) they may well find life difficult.

So, what are enterprising bookshops doing to overcome this? Obviously if there is a well-established lit-fest in a town, then shops thrive. Just think of the number In Hay-on-Wye. You can’t move without tripping over a pile of books.

Have a look at the website of Mr. B’s Emporium in Bath. You can see immediately that it’s got a USP – and the fact that it is right in centre of a very beautiful, very tourist/student-friendly city doesn’t go amiss.

Taking the idea of a USP to extremes, I heard of a shop that has opened recently in the Ginza District of Tokyo. (And after a recent visit, I can assure you that retail rents won’t be cheap there!) The owner, Yoshiyuki Morioka, chooses one book each week and sells only multiple copies of that book. The following week a new book is featured. But during the week the store runs an exhibition based on the book’s theme. So, for example, if the book is about a particular place, the whole experience for visitors to the shop is about that place.  I can imagine it working in Japan where the idea of simplicity and ‘less is more’ is so prevalent. But would be turn a profit in the UK?

So, perhaps the motto for bookshops should be: If you wish to live and thrive… find an original niche for yourself!

And before I leave you this week, I’ll quickly return to Hay-on-Wye. Their festival will be held from 26th May to 5th June this year. It’s in a wonderful location, with great scenery and walking on the doorstep. Amongst other well-known  names there’ll be appearances by Peter Carey, Germaine Greer, Jeanette Winterson and Tippi Hedren (no, not a writer but the actress famous for appearing in the Hitchcock films ‘Marnie’ and ‘The Birds’). If you’re looking for an early summer break with lots of books you couldn’t find anywhere better.


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About The Author: Diana Nadin

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