In with the new
01.01.70 | Matt Taylor
The last few weeks have been different for us in The Chepstow Bookshop and rather exciting. Despite a backdrop of falling physical book sales, new customers have been coming into the shop and buying books.
These new customers have sought us out for two very different reasons.
Firstly, the publishing phenomenon that is Fifty Shades of Grey. This is that rare and blessed thing, a must-have book which is desired by an audience far wider than the regular book-buying demographic.
The second reason was due to us hiring the rather fantastic Gruffalo costume from Macmillan. Creating theatre in the bookshop through a publishing partnership attracted hundreds of parents with their children into our shop. Most bought a book too. The numbers flocking to meet the Gruffalo made front page headlines in the local paper and created huge goodwill in the local area.
Both events offered us the opportunity to engage with new audiences and by giving them a great experience—finding a book or entertaining the kids—they will hopefully return.
As an independent bookseller you get to know your regulars but it is a constant challenge to attract new customers. Author signings, promotions, Christmas and external publishing events can all be used to increase footfall and we seized on these two great opportunities to try to grow our customer base.
Bookshops can still be strange and intimidating places for people. With the air of sophistication and knowledge, independent bookshops even more so. Our small size can be off-putting to parents with a gaggle of vocal children and unfamiliar shelves can seem impenetrable to some looking for a popular read. Often going into a bookshop (indeed any high street shop) is sadly no longer part of the regular shopping pattern. For many Fifty Shades customers it is supply issues that have driven them into our shop and many have remarked: “You can’t get this book anywhere”, meaning that Asda and Tesco have sold out.
Extending the readership of books has long been a holy grail of publishers and booksellers. Some things have a life of their own, and in both cases here it been genuine word of mouth that has been responsible for much of the success (from the school gate to Facebook) as much as marketing or PR.
We certainly can’t afford to be judgemental about any book purchase, and need to make any new customer feel at home. Even if only a few of these new customers come back at Christmas it could have a major impact on the success or otherwise of 2012.