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A Christmas carol

There is an irony that as the rest of the (publishing) world looks forward into 2013, booksellers are busy in the trenches making sure that Christmas 2012 is a festive one for all.

The picture from the high street is mixed though. Print sales are down, as you would expect, but not uniformly, and those booksellers selling devices are said to be pleasantly surprised. Some booksellers are also reporting a rise in anti-Amazon sentiment and a return to the high street, something we noted last year in light of the Mary Portas review.

Blackwell’s results show that with patience and investment a sustainable high street model can be created, with rents likely to become easier to negotiate in the present climate, and landlords increasingly sensitive about the wider image of the high street. But there can also be growth: as markets evolve new opportunities arise, and not just around digital. Blackwell’s, for instance, is now dealing direct with institutions to put books at the heart of the student fees package. The chain’s “pop-up” Connect shops show that bookshops can also go to the customer, not just the other way round.

Of course one pine needle does not make a tree. This time last year we noted that direct government action was necessary to “save our high streets”, but one year on it is safe to assume that whatever action this government takes, it will inevitably be window-dressing when compared to the wider shifts in shopping habits and digital reading. But the corollary is that bookshops are run by incredibly enterprising and, judging by the window displays seen on out high streets, creative folk.

If ever there was a trade able to withstand and understand the shifts, it should be bookselling. In 2013 we should all take note to listen to and engage with booksellers further, not just through involvement with Foyles’ new “crowd-sourced” flagship but more widely, as the Booksellers Association has encouraged us to do for many years.

As publishers develop their direct-to-consumer models, and bookshops move into the events business, we are likely to see some merging, perhaps even duplicating, of roles, as everyone fights for the attention of readers. We need to learn to accommodate these changes, but we should also be wary of becoming too exclusionary—we still work better as a trade when we all pull in the same direction, even if we are rowing at different speeds.

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Some will come on here and accuse you of being a dreamer, Philip. Not those with common sense though. The models - publishing, bookselling and reading - are all evolving at speed, and those that adapt and understand their new roles will survive.

The world is not becoming 100% digital as some would hae you believe, but not to recognise that it has been a massive game-changer and change your strategy accordingly would be suicide.

I love the idea of being a dreamer, and if so why not, we could do with a bit of that sometimes. But actually the views are founded on reality. Bookshops are remodelling themselves, selling other products in a book space when necessary, and there is a genuine backlash out there against Amazon, that may have some impact this year and more next. Everyone is down on Waterstones, but actually the results of the other chains, WHS, Blackwell's, and even Foyles suggest that the bookshops can continue to operate profitabiltiy even in these austere times. Moreover, we need them to. There is a lot of energy spent protecting copyright, and too little spent protecting bookshops. Seems to me that both are equally vital. I think those who believe bookshops don't have a future are choosing to read only half the story.

Some will come on here and accuse you of being a dreamer, Philip. Not those with common sense though. The models - publishing, bookselling and reading - are all evolving at speed, and those that adapt and understand their new roles will survive.

The world is not becoming 100% digital as some would hae you believe, but not to recognise that it has been a massive game-changer and change your strategy accordingly would be suicide.

I love the idea of being a dreamer, and if so why not, we could do with a bit of that sometimes. But actually the views are founded on reality. Bookshops are remodelling themselves, selling other products in a book space when necessary, and there is a genuine backlash out there against Amazon, that may have some impact this year and more next. Everyone is down on Waterstones, but actually the results of the other chains, WHS, Blackwell's, and even Foyles suggest that the bookshops can continue to operate profitabiltiy even in these austere times. Moreover, we need them to. There is a lot of energy spent protecting copyright, and too little spent protecting bookshops. Seems to me that both are equally vital. I think those who believe bookshops don't have a future are choosing to read only half the story.