'No bookshop is an island': #FutureChat recap

'No bookshop is an island': #FutureChat recap

At IndieReCon: Launching #Authors4Books

Standing in this beautiful new Foyles store to launch ALLi’s Authors For Bookstores campaign, for a moment we can fool ourselves that reports of the decline of bricks-and-mortar bookshops are greatly exaggerated.

The Alliance of Independent Authors' (ALLi) Debbie Young (pictured)took to the floor of Friday's IndieReCon event in London shortly before we began our life #FutureChat from the site. She was there with her fellow author, Piers Alexander (pictured), to put a new ALLi campaign into play. #Authors4Bookstores is to stand beside ALLi's Ethical Author campaign — launched at The Bookseller's The Futurebook Conference last November by Orna Ross — and the longer-standing Opening Up to Indie Writers campaign. Young:

Bookshops are becoming an endangered species. Two years ago [in 2013], The Bookseller reported [here's the story] their number fell for the first time in living memory to below 1,000. In 2014, they plummeted to 939. BUT it’s not because books are going out of style. What’s changing is people’s buying habits. People are moving away from traditional bookshops, or only setting foot in them to “showroom” - the term that describes checking out the physical product in store before going home to buy it online.

The relationship between many bookshops and independent authors has not always been an easy one. Without standard distribution channels at work, many booksellers are faced with a daunting challenge as writer after writer turns up to present his or her own books for valuable space on shrinking shelves. Some shopkeepers report that authors sometimes misconstrue the proposition, assuming that booksellers have some sort of obligation to carry their books.

My Bookseller colleague Sarah Shaffi reported on an Author HQ session hosted by our Cathy Rentzenbrink at London Book Fair in which booksellers recommended that writers try to avoid appearing "arrogant" in their expectations of what might be appropriate for a store to take on. Shaffi quotes Matt Bates, fiction buyer at WH Smith Travel, saying "I'm looking for a product that looks strong and commercial." All writers may not understand this — or may not understand what a bookseller means by "strong and commercial."

These are early days for a disparate group of creative people still finding their footing in a digitally enabled publishing context. Many authors have come into the business without professional experience of the marketplace, after all. In what has developed as a healthy pattern followed by ALLi on such issues, the organisation's response is to work toward education of its large member and subscriber base. And this is what Young was announcing at IndieReCon, the latest instance of an ALLi-led charge into awareness for a large field of writers whose proud diversity can also include a lot of unintended but potent naïvetê.

Young:

Whether or not we decide to pitch our books to bookshops - and not all of us can do that viably, nor can trade-published authors, as a matter of fact - there are still many simple and affordable things that authors can do to help high street bookshops thrive. In fact, we have much more power to help bookshops than we might think. Because we’re not just authors, we’re also bookbuyers.

The ALLi #Authors4Bookstores campaign, still in development, will put forward a 20-point manifesto, Young said, recommending that authors do such things as:

  • Buy any print books from a nearby physical store, not online.
  • Suggest to readers that they, too, "shop local."
  • Participate online in local booksellers' efforts.
  • Sign up for in-store loyalty programmes. As Young noted, "Who could resist having a store card branded 'Foyalty'?"

Turning figuratively to Donne and Huxley, Young said:

No bookshop is an island. The closure of each one diminishes every author’s lot. Can you imagine a society in which all book sales are transacted online? That’s a Brave New World that we can do without.

And the concern and sense of responsibility being researched in this nascent campaign suffused the day, as described here — into which we folded our standard #FutureChat discussion, which arrived as the IndieReCon events were still going on. In fact, I had to bail a bit early because the table I was using to handle the live chat needed to be moved and set up for a book sale at the conclusion of IndieRecon.

So here are some of the #FutureChat thoughts in response to our call for thoughts on where authors stand today, in issues and in output. As is often the case, James Scott Bell — seated in Los Angeles, far from the turning tables of Foyles — was one of the quickest to the mark.


[Orna Ross of ALLi and I did an onstage streamed interview to mark ALLi's third anniversary during our chat.]


Join The Bookseller's The FutureBook #FutureChat each Friday at 3 p.m. GMT, 4 p.m. London (BST), 5 p.m. Rome (CEST), 11 a.m. New York (ET), 10 a.m. Chicago (CT), 9 a.m. Denver (MT), 8 a.m. Los Angeles (PT), 5 a.m. Honolulu (HAST).