It’s time to be bold

On my various travels around the world, I find myself dwelling repeatedly in these troubled times about the social and economic value of books and how we as an industry could be doing more to promote this collectively.

Yes, our sector has experienced some new growth after difficult years and we should all be happy about that. But we all know what a tough market environment we are facing. We need to find new, powerful ways to support and sustain growth—collectively.

It was particularly interesting to read that the keynote for The Bookseller Marketing & Publicity Conference was Sport England and its #ThisGirlCan campaign. This is a prime example of a brilliantly executed campaign with a simple but powerful message that marked the minds of thousands of people.

Could we imagine such an inspiring, industry-wide campaign about books? After all, books of all kinds provide great value-for-money entertainment and education, and indeed enrich the lives of readers of all ages. Today, in most cases, a book is cheaper than going to the cinema, the theatre, a sports event, a concert or visiting the latest museum exhibition. And it is also likely to have a much longer-lasting impact on people’s lives.

Books have transcended the move from a material to an experiential society. They have remained relevant as they enable people to belong to communities of all sorts—communities of fans reading the same bestseller, geographical communities centred around a bookshop and library, and communities of enthusiasts passionate about the same topic. This is true of all book formats—any book is about enjoying an experience, and with a very modest price tag.

So why are we, as an industry, apologetically nice about the contribution of books to the very essence of a vibrant society? It is understandable, considering we were all asked constantly about the “death of books” as recently as five years ago. Funding is also an obvious barrier—above the line campaigns require significant budgets, which is a difficult ask in a challenged industry and retail environment. Can we find innovative, smart ways to be ambitious and realistic at the same time? And I will put it out there—if we manage to get a grassroots campaign off the ground, I am committed to contribute funds from The Quarto Group.

Working collaboratively is the second hurdle, as I am convinced that to achieve proper scale, it will be critical to find new ways to join forces through trade associations and charities, with active contribution and commitment from publishers and booksellers—led not just by c.e.o.s but by people across all levels and areas of the industry.

Now is the time to be bold, loud and collaborative, and to inspire everyone with the love, energy and dynamism that makes each of us so passionate about what we do.