According to recent figures published by the Booksellers Association, more than 500 independent bookshops have closed in the UK and Ireland since 2005. Competition from e-books, supermarkets and online retailers such as Amazon have caused a general downturn in high street book sales but now the bookshops are fighting back as last week independent book store owners from all over the UK gathered at the Boooksellers Association’s annual conference to discuss novel retail design solutions for the ‘Bookshop of the Future’.
Comfortable Customer Experience
The stores have to focus on the individual aspects or unique selling points that that they can offer to customers that online stores can’t and work them to their advantage, For example cosy seating or cafes have began to feature more prominently in many stores in attempt to entice and retain customers.
James Lowther, a founding partner of M&C Saatchi, who devised the current ‘Books Are My Bag’ marketing campaign explains how bookstores need to work their best features in order to survive:
“Bookshops have their own advantages which Amazon and Kindle don’t [shop owners need to] exploit their physical environment…do things like open cafes, but make it the best cafe in the town.”
Drink and Read
Tim Godfray, chief executive of the Booksellers Association agrees – and suggests a next level “The idea of a bookshop with a bar sounds pretty civilised to me…it would be great fun. You could sit back and peruse while having a nice cold glass of Chardonnay. You can’t get that online.”
This approach is one already inadvertently applied by online stores – a few glasses of wine can cause customers to become more reckless and less inhibited in their purchases – could this translate to the high street as well?
Miriam Robinson, head of marketing at Foyles, is cautious about making visitors too comfortable:
“The idea of people dwelling all day with a book in their hand in a comfy chair is lovely….but I think we all know it’s not particularly financially sustainable. We can’t really pay for people to sit on our couches and read our books all day.”
Other approaches to lure customers discussed at the conference included making children more comfortable with specialised areas and activities such as storytelling (like independent book store owner Meg Ryan does in the film ‘You’ve Got Mail’ – and we all know how that turned out…) Or de-cluttering stores, embracing technology and offering ‘the personal touch’ that online or chain stores just don’t have.
Longtail Marketing and Print-on Demand
As mentioned in our previous post about the MegaNews print-on-demand magazine kiosk – bookstores could also offer bespoke products or a print-on-demand machine. This technology has been slow to take off but retailers do see a role for it in the near future as the machines become cheaper and faster.
Last year, one UK bookstore, Mr B’s Emporium published their own limited print run of Arto Paasilinna’s ‘The Howling Miller’ in 300 hardback copies. Other bookshops are starting to recognise the value in this and are considering how they might support and sell their favourite books or ones which are relevant to a specific time or place – with bespoke editions enabling them to become mini-publishers in their own right.
Patrick Neale, Chairman of the Booksellers Association, who runs the Jaffe & Neale bookshop in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire confirms that he has been mulling the idea over:
“There’s lots of fantastic Cotswold country writing that’s out of print so I would love to reprint that and do it beautifully and be in control of that. And then there’s championing new authors as well, so there are lots of different ways of approaching it.”
With many new authors deciding to self-publish or releasing online editions this could be another way to draw in people who prefer a paper-copy to a Kindle and keep the footfall within independent stores.