Publishing chief executives have been urged to spend a day working on the bookshop floor by the new president of the Booksellers Association.
Ros de la Hey (pictured), who is owner of the Main Street Trading Company in St Boswells, said she hoped to launch a new scheme for booksellers and publishers, called Adopt a C.e.o.
Opening the BA Conference at the University of Warwick this morning (12th September), de la Hey, herself a former publisher at Bloomsbury, explained she wanted to encourage “those who lead the publishing world to step outside of London and their local neighbourhood and spend some time inside a bookshop”.
Faber c.e.o Stephen Page and Canongate c.e.o Jamie Byng have already agreed to visit the Main Street Trading Company, she said.
“While a publisher myself, I spent years taking authors on tour so I should have been fairly well informed about the life of a bookseller,” de la Hey explained. “In reality, I had never stood behind a till, never dealt with a tricky customer and never unpacked 12 boxes of books before 11am. I tended to see each shop through the prism of the event I was attending…
“Publishers have begun to refocus their attention on the high street and recognise the importance of bookshops. As BA president, I’d like to encourage publishers to rediscover the joy and beauty of the shop floor, coaxing them to join us in the fun of day’s bookselling, speaking to actual customers.”
She added that any publishers or booksellers who wanted to get involved in the scheme should contact her or the BA’s Alan Staton or Meryl Halls.
De la Hey also sounded a positive note about the current state of bookselling in the UK and Ireland, saying that while some bookshops are still closing, those which remain and the new shops opening, are “ever more creative and exciting places to work and, more importantly, shop”.
“They are hubs of their community, lively, constantly changing – it’s all about experience,” the BA president said. “The statistics are beginning to turn in our favour, with physical book sales increasing for the first time in years and e-books sales levelling off.”
However, de la Hey also warned against complacency now physical book sales were on the rise again, pointing to e-lending as a hovering threat.
“We can genuinely see e-books as just another format – here to stay, but no longer the Armageddon threat of a few years ago,” she said. “Having said that, we must still have our voices heard in the debate over e-lending, otherwise the threat will not only be to bookshops, but libraries themselves.”
She added that bookshops faced “structural” challenges including business rates, pensions and the new National Living Wage, “to name but a few”, but welcomed the increase in the small business rates relief and a 100% relief for properties with a rateable value below £12,000, named in the government's Spring budget, which the BA had helped to campaign for.
“But challenges remain and the impacts of recent changes, are still to be seen,” de la Hey added.