In the bag

The genius of the Books Are My Bag promotion is its simplicity. In many ways it has echoes of the more haphazard “Super Thursday”. Both work because their central messages are clear. One is the day a lot of big books are released. The other is an affirmation of how readers love both books and shops.

The origins of this latest campaign date from discussions that took place between former Booksellers Association president Jane Streeter and publishers two years ago. At the time there was acknowledgment that bookshops, if they were to survive, needed commitment from publishers. Books Are My Bag is the latest manifestation of that dialogue, but actually some good work has already taken place. Exclusive bookshops editions are becoming the norm, Independent Booksellers Week gets terrific support from publishers and their authors, and there has even been some movement on terms.

Allied to this, our understanding of the wider shifts in the marketplace is becoming clearer. I’ve written this before but all the evidence suggests that readers still want physical books (sometimes alongside e-books) and still want to find them in physical bookshops. As Stephen Page writes in this issue, this should not lull us into a false sense of security that this evolution is now over, but it should at least indicate that it might not evolve in quite the way the tech-heads would like. A World Service broadcast on the Penguin Random House merger last week “reported” that publishers were closing down, and imagined the PRH deal as some kind of last stand. Palpable nonsense, but this has been the kind of mud thrown at bookshops for a decade. When faced with such prattle, it makes absolute sense to return fire with as simple a unified message as there can be.

The skill of the M & C Saatchi slogan is that it distills this wider message into its purest form, and co-opt readers, including celebrities, into carrying that show of commitment into the wider community.

This is important. How many writers will have been put off approaching a publisher as a result of the World Service’s dreary coverage? How many book buyers are put off going into their local bookshops by the exaggerated news of their demise? Books Are My Bag instantly joins other classic slogans, such as “a diamond is forever”. It is a slogan we can all rally behind, no bad associations here. It is a celebration: books are our bag.