Low salaries are said to remain a major obstacle for bookshop managers looking to recruit and retain knowledgeable, passionate staff.
According to Prospects, a graduate careers advice service, typical bookseller starting salaries are between £12,000–£17,000 per annum, and £20,000–£40,000 at senior level, with experience (e.g. after 10-15 years in the role). The upper end of the scale is usually only achieved by those who have progressed to managing a large bookshop, or the large branch of a chain bookseller.
Foyles pays booksellers a starting salary of £15,114 per annum, rising to £15,961 after the completion of a probation period. Meanwhile, the IBF Fitness Programme—a survey of independent booksellers conducted by the Booksellers Association back in 2011—indicated that bookshop owners paid themselves, on average, a £22,000-a-year-salary. But many bookselling staff at independents or chain stores are on the minimum wage, or only slightly above.
James Daunt, managing director of Waterstones, said the company didn’t have a problem attracting staff, adding that retaining them was a bigger issue. “I think we do get an extremely high calibre of young people joining us but if they want to develop a career, to go on to drive cars and get mortgages—as many people do—then of course it is harder keeping them. The major problem is retention.”
Daunt said the company was creating a new staff bonus scheme and putting a percentage of its EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortisation) into a pot which will be split between employees annually. “It is to reward anybody, wherever they are in the company,” he said. “We would expect to pay out a reasonable amount. I would expect it will be 5%–10% of salary. It will be given at our year-end in April, but all the hard work on sales is done this month, so it is now that really matters.”
Suzanne Collier of bookcareers.com, who is conducting a survey on publishing salaries across the trade, said: “Booksellers are getting paid even worse than publishers because their salaries are compared to general retailers, so they are getting paid a little over minimum wage. Booksellers aren’t really rewarded in terms of pay for the extra knowledge and expertise required for being a bookseller in comparison to other retail jobs. The attitude has generally been that they should be lucky they work in a nice environment for the retail industry.”
Meryl Halls, head of membership services for the BA, said: “Booksellers would like nothing more than to pay staff above-average salaries, but it’s a low-margin business, and we know from our IBF Fitness Programme that bookshop owners are very often sharing the pain and taking relatively little out of the business for their salaries.”
Halls said the pressures on small businesses were only growing, with rent and rates increasing and new legislation on pensions.
Bookshop owner Ron Johns employs around 20 people in his three independent bookshops in south-west England. He said: “It isn’t easy to keep long-term staff. The way we can do it is to pay them a bit more and to give them work fulfilment in terms of more power. We try to be as flexible as we can be with people working around children. It is important to get the right staff—the job does require skill.”
However, the British Retail Consortium pointed out that retail employment packages were better than many people perceived because staff were often able to work more flexibly and receive discounts on stock. Foyles offers 30% discount to its staff, and Waterstones offers 50% off to its employees.
At the Booksellers Association Conference at the University of Warwick earlier this year, James Lowther, an M&C Saatchi director who was behind the Books Are My Bag campaign, told booksellers in attendance that one way to fend off competition from Amazon was to “hire the best staff in the business” and to retain them and their expertise.