A week to build on
05.07.12 | Neill Denny
This week is Independent Booksellers Week, with more than 300 independent booksellers participating in events up and down the land. The gloomy weather is a mixed blessing, good for reading if less good for shopping, but the damp is better for booksellers than searing heat.
Certainly the market as a whole has warmed up nicely in the run-up to IBW. Sales last week were up an impressive 10%, driven largely by the phenomenal success of Fifty Shades of Grey. Although clearly a mass market book, it is also number one in the indies, and is creating energy and excitement around the whole books category at just the right time. A happy accident it may be, but successful publishing is often just a string of such propitious moments.
Now in its fifth year, IBW is gradually becoming a successful trade-wide promotion, and not just from its comparative longevity. Its focus on localism, that local people need to support independent shops, has anticipated a growing consumer trend, one best encapsulated by Mary Portas’ vigorous efforts to revive the high street. IBW is tapping into that wider cultural shift away from mass retailing towards bespoke, personalised retail—and a good local indie that knows its customers and their tastes is a good embodiment of that.
But more needs to be done if IBW is to maximise the impact it could be having. The great success of the Charing Cross Road festival, which saw footfall uplifts of nearly 20% at Foyles and Blackwell, shows what can be done when other retailers get involved, when booksellers take the lead and turn the week into a wider event. There is no reason why smaller indies cannot take a similarly ambitious approach in the future. The number of indies taking part has hovered around the 300 mark since year one: why are all or most of the other 800 not getting involved? It seems increasingly perverse to ignore IBW.
Publishers too need to do more: more special editions, more discounts, more author support for events. They need to aggressively defend indies—to act as a counterweight to the chains, the supermarkets and the web—because a good indie is an engine for creating life-long readers, the solid customers the whole trade ultimately depends on.