'It's time to pull together', BA urges trade to support high street bookselling

'It's time to pull together', BA urges trade to support high street bookselling

The Booksellers Association is calling on customers and the trade to rally behind retailers and support bookshops, as the coronavirus outbreak hits the high street. 

Last night Boris Johnson asked the British public to work from home where possible and urged people to stop all non-essential travel and non-essential contact. With high street footfall expected to decline as a result of increased "social distancing", BA m.d. Meryl Halls is rallying the trade to throw its weight behind bookshops.

Halls said: “It's unfortunate that the hallmarks of the crisis management – self-isolation, social distancing and avoiding people and gatherings – are the very opposite of what bookshops pride themselves on offering to their communities, and what have become the positive emblems of the renaissance of bookselling recently. They also, unfortunately, play to the strengths of multinational online retailers, and we want to ensure that we are reminding consumers that they can still use their local bookshop to buy books even if they are practising social distancing.”

Halls called on publishers and authors to support bookshops, a message echoed by former BA president Nic Bottomley, co-owner of Bath bookshop Mr B’s Emporium. 

"We are very keen for publishers and authors to help reinforce this message too – not to default to Amazon as the de facto buying option, but to link to bookshops and to reiterate the importance of shopping locally, supporting their local community and emphasising the contribution of bookshops to safe, nourishing and mutually supportive neighbourhoods," said Halls. 

Bottomley told The Bookseller: “Whilst booksellers recognise that all of the other partners in the trade have equally huge problems I think we are going to be really hopeful that publishers will lend us a hand by directing people to our websites and offerings, presumably that bookstores are able to dispatch books in those ways or by considering what they can do to alleviate short term cashflow crises in terms of the business relationship. I think that will be very important for publishers to think about what they might be able to do.”

It comes as many bookshops cancel author events, with bookshops such as London's Goldsboro Books closing its bricks and mortar premises until the end of the month and turning its focus to online bookselling. Dalston's Burley Fisher Books will close for two weeks from today while Glasgow’s indie LGBTQIA+ bookshop Category Is Books has closed its physical premises but is offering to deliver locally by skateboard and bike. Others are offering recommendations over the phone and online with local deliveries in place for Book-ish in Crickhowell and The Portobello Bookshop in Edinburgh. Waterstones has temporarily closed four of its campus bookshops owing to a decline in footfall while Blackwell's has closed it's Wellcome Collection branch. 

Halls added: “We know how resourceful and resilient booksellers are in the face of adversity, and we will do everything we can to support them during this difficult time, and encourage the publishing industry, the government and consumers to do the same."

The BA has written an open letter asking for support for high street bookselling. 

Support for High Street Bookselling During the Coronavirus Crisis

It goes without saying how dismayed and concerned we all are at the impact that the Covid-19 crisis is having globally, on people’s lives and livelihoods, their health and well-being and on trade and the economy.

The BA is, of course, in our own context, particularly concerned with the impact of the crisis on UK and Irish bricks and mortar bookselling, and I’m writing to you and other publishers now to urge all partners and suppliers to bookshops to offer as much commercial and practical support as is possible to ensure that bookshops – already the lifeblood of many high street communities and a key route to market for books of all types – can weather the storm.

It's unfortunate that the hallmarks of the crisis management – self-isolation, social distancing and avoiding people and gatherings – are the very opposite of what bookshops pride themselves on offering to their communities, and what have become the positive emblems of the renaissance of bookselling recently. They also, unfortunately, play to the strengths of multinational online retailers, and we want to ensure that we are reminding consumers that they can still use their local bookshop to buy books even if they are practising social distancing.  We have created a range of resources available for BA members, including social media assets to help reinforce that point. Many, many booksellers are using those messages and amplifying with their own.

We are very keen for publishers and authors to help reinforce this message too –not to default to Amazon as the de facto buying option, but to link to bookshops and to reiterate the importance of shopping locally, supporting their local community and emphasising the contribution of bookshops to safe, nourishing and mutually supportive neighbourhoods.

As you will know all too well, the UK and Irish high street landscape has been challenged for a number of years, and the British Retail Consortium in January reported the worst ever Christmas performance by retail since their records began.

You’ll also know that, nonetheless, the BA was able in January to report a third year modest rise in the number of independent bookshops, and a good Christmas for high street bookshops of all sizes – notwithstanding that many bookshops were outperforming their own high streets.  Our already active representation work on behalf of bookshops — and high streets more generally — is now, of course, taking on a much more urgent aspect.

The onslaught of the Covid-19 crisis on the already jeopardised high street is therefore a massive potential body blow to a fragile high street recovery, and we are urging publishers and other suppliers to consider a number of ways in which they can help counter some of its worst effects.

These steps might include:

  • grace periods on payments
  • extending returns limits
  • credits for returns in transit
  • free delivery and returns carriage for bookshops
  • free shipping for consumers home delivery
  • additional discount
  • the removal of caps on returns
  • the possibility of virtual author events, to salvage some of the lost sales and profile from shop events
  • increased provision of signed stock
  • the use of the BA’s Find Your Local Bookshop search button and link – for publisher sites, and for authors online and on social media – encouraging the trade and consumers to use their local bookshop to buy books, and not default online 

We are encouraging BA members to approach suppliers to ask for support on a on a case-by-case basis and to contact publishing reps with their individual requests.

We are grateful to all the publishers who are supporting bookshops in various ways at the moment.

If you are able to let me know of any particular steps you are planning on taking to assist bookshops at this time, I’d be grateful to hear from you with details.

On behalf of all BA members, I do thank you for your consideration in this – and we are all too aware that the publishing community has its own challenges to bear, and its own duty of care for its staff, suppliers, customers and stakeholders.

It’s a time for the trade to pull together, and to offer mutual support – if there is anything I or the BA can do to help you in your business, or more widely in the supply chain, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Very many thanks once more,

Kind regards

Meryl