Breaking the chain

<p>Statistics are always a dodgy thing to quote, but when they are to your advantage, it's time to believe them. Supermarkets and independents are increasing their share in the book market while the chains are losing percentage points. At a time when independents are closing every week, does this mean that those of us that are left are doing the job well and that the chains are not? What can independents do to continue this trend?</p>
<p>Supermarkets are often a great way for the &quot;non-reader&quot; to sample an author or genre which, hopefully, will encourage them to visit a real bookshop to purchase other titles. It is at this point that the independent needs to shine on the welcome, range, knowledge and rapid ordering to turn visitors into regular customers. With all the special discounts from the wholesalers, the independent's prices are often competitive, and it is the intimate environment of the independent that will always score. Getting to know the customers and their interests, keeping them informed of new titles and authors, and making them feel part of the success of the business are all things that the chains might strive to do but rarely succeed in, purely because of the size of the store, which makes personal service extremely difficult.</p>
<p>&quot;Clone town&quot; syndrome also has a part to play in this statistic. People are getting tired of walking into shops that are exactly the same whichever town they are in. We like different. Piles of the same book supposedly sell more quickly, but when they don't, as happened last Christmas, how does the customer feel when returning to their chain bookseller on 26th December to find all the bestselling books they bought for Christmas selling at half price, with &pound;7.99 annuals all at 99p? Is this sensible customer relations? This doesn't happen at independents, as they are constrained by the space and working capital available, and therefore order on a little-and-often basis, providing a wide range and alternative selection that customers enjoy.</p>
<p>Recently, a number of high-profile authors visiting our shop have commented on the professionalism of the independents they have visited, on the excellent contacts these shops have with the local press, and how often many more copies of their book are sold in independents than the chains. It's getting this message over to the publishers, and perhaps the authors, that seems to be getting more difficult, with voicemails and emails to the publicity departments being regularly ignored. When we do, our market share will continue to increase, and the high street will be a better place for it.</p>