12.01.09 | Paul Sweetman
Trade at City Books was surprisingly buoyant during the last quarter of 2008. Anecdotal evidence suggests that it was the high street stores that suffered most, particularly those in shopping centres. Reports were of a decrease in footfall of 10—15% in mid December, which may have improved in the week or so before Christmas, but at the expense of margin in many cases. It may have been an advantage being situated just outside the city centre, as people stayed local in an attempt to avoid spending too much.
Independents do have some advantages over the chains. We have flexibility and the ability to make very quick decisions. Publishers are not paying us to display their books, and so we can promote exactly what we like. We are able to respond to any late or unexpected publicity and to the 'books of the year' round-ups in the weekend papers in the run-up to Christmas. Those books that were returned in the summer are suddenly back in demand, as reviewers help to boost the sales of their colleagues' books.
One of our bestselling books and Richard and Judy's sizeable choice of a stocking filler, was The Mighty Book of Boosh. Another hefty tome, recommended as a stocking filler in the Guardian by Tom Service, was The Rest is Noise, weighing in at 624 pages. Alex Ross' acclaimed history of 20th-century classical music was bought with great glee at £25, and in some quantity too.
Problems at Zavvi caused by their reliance on one supplier, EUK, are a warning to us all. Even the smallest independents would benefit from having accounts with at least some direct suppliers, and should certainly deal with more than just one wholesaler. Caught up in the Woolworths saga, stock levels at THE/Bertrams were inevitably a major problem over Christmas and still are. Gardners seemed unable to take full advantage, and I was grateful to have strong links with all the main publishers. Let's hope that the trade rallies around to help THE/Bertrams to get back on its feet, as we need strong competition between wholesalers. A monopoly situation would be a disaster for both sides of the trade.
In 2009 we are celebrating the 150th birthday of On the Origin of Species. I am particularly looking forward our first event of the year when Professor Steve Jones comes to us to talk about his new book Darwin's Island.
Happy New Year!