Foyles' spur

At Foyles we have an opportunity that requires the input and engagement of our friends, partners and customers to make it successful. It is an opportunity which we also believe has the potential to make a real difference to the industry.

In 2014, Foyles will vacate its current premises on Charing Cross Road and move down a couple of doors to the former home of Central St Martin’s College of Art. It’s not a particularly long way to go, and not even our first move; William and Gilbert Foyle moved up and down the street multiple times before settling into our current space in 1929. So many moments in Foyles history have been those of drama, innovation and determination: Christina Foyle, aged 21, sent to Russia to collect debts for the business; the ludicrously grand literary luncheons that spanned decades; Christopher Foyle chasing thieves from the shop and apprehending them in Soho Square; right through to the complete renovation of Foyles in recent years which brought it into retail modernity and, ultimately, profit.

And now we change again. In an era rife with doom and gloom over the future of the physical book and the future of bookselling, maybe only the bookshop that sued the Pope for failure to pay his book club bill in the 1940s would be insane enough to build a brand new flagship store in the middle of London.

And I’d argue there’s a very good chance that this will be the last bookshop of its size built in the UK. But this presents us with a unique opportunity, a chance to re-imagine our bookshop for the 21st century. We can make these seemingly oil-and-water worlds of physical and digital not just coexist, but help each other to thrive.

As we know, discoverability in the digital world is an ongoing challenge. But discovery is what bookshops do best through merchandising, events, booksellers’ knowledge, enthusiasm—and sheer books on shelves.

So what we have is this truly singular moment, a chance to create a bookshop where the experiential and cultural strengths of bricks and mortar meet the growing opportunities of digital. This is where we need your help. This is our call for collaboration. We are in the process of building a 40,000 sq ft bookshop, and we’d like you to build it with us too.
In February, in conjunction with The Bookseller, we will host a workshop (see page 26), to which we will invite delegates to work with experts from publishing, culture, tech design and retail to develop a vision for the bookshop of the future. Delegates will get their own tour through the building site before returning to our Gallery to hear from our project team, our architects and others about the challenges and opportunities of the space, and the questions they present for modern-day book retail.

We’ll then ask you to apply your individual expertise to help shape our new flagship store. We’ll use these ideas as impetus for creative play and problem-solving—what does the bookshop of the future look like? How do digital and physical work with, not against, each other? How do you create a space that has maximum cultural and social appeal as well as retail viability? These are questions we are confident have ramifications not just for us, but for bookselling as a whole.

Why are we doing this? Would it not be better to do all of this behind closed doors, leaving the results unseen until we cut the ribbon on opening day? Here are the three main reasons for why we are opening out the process.

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Selfishness: this is a big shop, and we’re open to every idea possible to make our flagship as strong and enduring as we can.

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To develop grounded, tangible, practical solutions for bookselling over the coming decades. It is our sincere hope that this workshop will stimulate ideas and thinking about bookselling that will benefit the entire industry.

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And most importantly, for our customers reading is most certainly not on the decline, so we want to build a bookshop that allows us to do what we do best, connecting stories and readers, for many years to come.

If you are interested in working with us then the process at this stage is incredibly lo-fi: send an email to bookshopworkshop@foyles.co.uk and we will send you back an application form. There’s only one caveat, that places are limited.

Miriam Robinson is head of marketing at Foyles