Tim Godfray is stepping back from his role as chief executive of the Booksellers Association (BA) after 33 years, with Meryl Halls promoted to managing director of the trade body.
At the same time, head of marketing Alan Staton has been promoted to director of strategy and communication.
Godfray will step back from the day-to-day management of projects on 10th April 2018 at the start of London Book Fair, taking up a newly-created position as executive chair of the BA Group, overseeing Batch and National Book Tokens as well as the BA.
Former head of membership services Halls will become m.d., another newly-created position, on the same day.
Starting her career as a conference assistant at the BA in 1988 before becoming conference manager for eight years, Halls moved on to become membership manager before latterly heading up Membership Services and playing a key role on the senior management team.
She told The Bookseller she hadn't hesitated to take on the m.d. role and that her tenure would represent continuity for BA members. “It is important for members and staff to know it is business as usual and we will continue to do all the work we have done,” she said. “I think we are at a great moment in the industry. Independents are on the rebound, Waterstones is strong, books are back in the public eye. I also think we are in a really good place as an organisation. Our members appreciate the campaign work we have done, campaigns like Books Are My Bag (BAMB) has achieved cut-through with the public and the work around the CEBR report on bookshops has demonstrated their value to the economy.”
The BA said Halls had been a “major driver” in improving liaison between the BA and its members and had worked across all its campaigns including Books Are My Bag, Independent Bookshop Week, the Independent Booksellers Forum, and IndieBound.
“There is still a lot to do – operating a high street business is challenging in the best of times, and we are not, I fear, in the best of times," Halls added. "What the BA will continue to do is shine a light on the essential work done by booksellers across the UK and Ireland and to press local and national government to recognise the contribution bookshops make to the social, cultural and economic fabric of the country.”
Godfray (pictured right) said it was "heartening" to see Halls' and Staton's "commitment and dedication" rewarded. He told The Bookseller that working with his “lovely” colleagues had been one of the reasons he had stayed in his position at the helm of the trade body for more than three decades. “The BA is still very much a family,” he said.
Reflecting on how the bookselling sector had changed over the last 30 years, he said it had become “far, far” more professional. “Only the best booksellers could survive in a fiercely competitive trading environment that followed the end of the Net Book Agreement in 1995,” Godfray said. “When I first came into the book trade, publishers tended to look askance if you didn’t enter their offices via the tradesman’s entrance! Now there’s mutual respect. Most publishers these days view booksellers as partners”.
The attitude of independent bookshops towards chain retailers had also moved on in that time, he added. “In the old days, independents saw the chains as ‘the enemy’,” Godfray said. “Now, independents, for example, view Waterstones as on the same side. The battle ground has become physical bookshops vs Amazon”.
As he prepares to step down as leader of the trade body, he said the e-commerce giant and the growing trend for online shopping will remain “to my mind, the biggest challenge for our members" because it will “take consumers away from the high streets generally”.
“I’m also concerned about future profitability within bookselling,” Godfray revealed. “Costs are going to go up and up. I can see no change to this. And booksellers don’t have total control at the moment over their selling prices to ensure that their rising costs are covered”.
Along with Staton’s promotion to director of strategy and communication, Pippa Halpin will become membership manager and the BA is hiring a head of campaigns to work on promotions like BAMB and Independent Bookshops Week.
Staton said he felt that in recent years the BA had “found its voice on behalf of booksellers, beyond the trade and traditional lobbying; creating successful messages to consumers and the media championing the vitality and importance of high street and campus bookshops”.
“I look forward to continuing that work and developing new strategies for promoting bookselling and booksellers,” he said.
BA president Rosamund de la Hey, owner of the Mainstreet Trading Company in St Boswell’s, welcomed the changes. “It is a great testament to the strength of the BA as an organisation that these changes represent both continuity and innovation," she said. "Meryl has, for many years, been a driving force for the voice of booksellers in all parts of the market, enabling booksellers to connect with each other, constantly finding ways to push their businesses forward in a time of such rapid change. And Alan’s clear thinking and calm vision can only benefit booksellers further in this new role. We are very fortunate to be able to retain the wise counsel of Tim in his new role of executive chair.”