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The future bookshop

Today at the FutureBook Conference we announced what I think is a unique and incredibly important collaboration with Foyles, the iconic London bookshop that next year celebrates its 110th anniversary. 

As many of you will know, Foyles is due to move locations, moving a few doors down the round into the building formerly inhabited by Central St Martins, school of fashion. The moves gives Foyles an opportunity to re-imagine their bookshop for the 21st century: to think about what it means to retail from bricks-and-mortar; to display and sell printed books in a physical space; and to provide a curated reading space for customers however they choose to access book content and whatever route they take to acquire that content.

 

We also believe this to be a golden opportunity to engage the wider trade in that re-imagination not just of Foyles, but of 'the bookshop'.So Foyles and The Bookseller will co-host a workshop in February next year that we hope many people in the industry—publishers, authors, agents, booksellers—will attend. Divided into teams, we’ll have early access to the floor plans of 107-109 Charing Cross Road, and in teams develop and propose models for the London flagship. The results of this session will be made public, and the ideas generated have the potential to go forward into the next stage of Foyle's relocation, ahead of its re-opening in 2014. The Bookseller will report on progress of the new shop, and those who attended the workshop will be invited back to continue to track what we hope will be—as far as is possible—an iterative process.  

 

So why are we doing this? As editor of The Bookseller, I do not believe the bookshop is dead, economically or in any other way. But we do not have to rehash the Booksellers Association's membership numbers to know that high street shops are under severe stress: some of this may be down to the recession, and some of it because of the shift to digital. As the BA president and independent bookshop owner Patrick Neale said at the BA's last conference, the need to change the financial bookselling model is “present and immediate”. Bookshops, he added, “have to demonstrate that we add value to the customer’s experience".  

 

While words are our stock-in business, we need practical solutions to real-world problems: and this is what we'll achieve, in what is essentially a trade-wide initiative to re-invent and re-invigorate the high street bookshop. Each bookshop is different, but we hope that the template we imagine as part of this collaboration can be used by other booksellers across the country, and aid them in their own journeys.

 

We have already seen a number of independent bookshops begin this process of reinvention--from the recently opened Deli at the Main Street Trading Company, to bibliotherapy at Mr B's, to Jaffé and Neale's welcoming cakes-- and it is vital that this refreshment continues. Bookshops play a vital role, for authors, for publishers, for customers and in society. In fact, as we learn more from the developing digital marketplace, the importance of a physical space as a way of getting good content in front of committed readers is heightening. The challenge for delegates at FutureBook is to begin to imagine this digital future with bookshops included. We have already begun this process: the Digital Census attracted hundreds of comments from industry people about how we secure a place for bookshops in this new age.

 

So this is where we begin. Not down, not out, but cognisant that change is necessary, and it is our job at The Bookseller to make sure bookshops wherever they are, whatever their size, have all the information and inspiration they can possibly get to help with that process. 

 

More details will be published this week in The Bookseller. Those who wish to suggest ideas for Foyles’ new flagship store can do so by emailing feedback@foyles.co.uk. They can also register their interest in the half-day workshop to take place in February 2013 by emailing bookshopworkshop@foyles.co.uk.