Scottish trade's hopes for indie bookshop alliance

Scottish trade's hopes for indie bookshop alliance

Trade figures have expressed their excitement about the imminent launch of the Independent Bookshop Alliance, with hopes it will bring retailers and publishers closer together.

Speaking at the Scottish Book Trade Conference held at Central Hall in Edinburgh on Thursday (22nd February), jointly organised by the Publishers Association and the Booksellers Association, panelists discussed how publishers and booksellers could build on their relationships.

Bob Johnston, owner of the Gutter Bookshop in Ireland, spoke of the developing Independent Bookshop Alliance, proposed by Simon Key of The Big Green Bookshop following the controversy surrounging the deep discounting of Philip Pullman's first The Book of Dust novel last year and Waterstones' exclusive deal to sell 5,000 signed special editions of the title.

The alliance, which has already seen over 120 bookshops expressing an interest, will see indies work together to negotiate better discounts and exclusive offers with publishers. Big Issue Founder Lord John Bird is to host a discussion about the alliance at the House of Lords next month.

“My challenge to publishers is that you should approach a shop, say ‘we’ve got an amazing book coming out, let’s do all of your windows’," Johnston said. "You could also help with in-store displays, tote bags… there’s so much we can collaborate on”.

Speaking about how the proposal could work in practice, Johnston said the alliance was interested in getting limited editions of titles exclusively for indies and organising joint window displays. Publishers are already starting discussions with the group, with Mantle offering exclusive editions of Kate Mosse's new book to independent bookshops.

Johnston added: “What makes us great is that we’re all different. We all think we can do it better than anyone else. It will be interesting to see all those independents come together. I’ve got good feeling about it, and the potential for publishers is huge.”

Callum McGhie, customer service manager at Blackwell’s, agreed there was much more scope for independent booksellers and publishers to work better together. He suggested a programme to break down the barriers that exist between the two sub-sectors of the industry.

“Booksellers live in their own wee island and have no visibility of what [publishers] do. We get rep visits and they’re fantastic, and great for handing over information, but we have no understanding of the process that goes on behind the creation of the beautiful books we sell”, said McGhie.

He continued: “I would like to get you guys to invite booksellers into your offices. To sit them down and take them through the whole process. Why editorial decisions are made, why a book looks like it does, where you get your resources from. It’s important for booksellers to understand and know why they need to put that book into somebody’s hand on a bookshop floor.”

Similarly, Laura Jones, co-director of 404 Ink magazine, discussed getting those who are wary of entering bookshops and those from underrepresented backgrounds to engage with the publishing ecosystem through bookshop tours.

The day's opening keynote saw writer and broadcaster Sally Magnusson tell delegates that the book trade can play a vital part in reminding the world of the universality of the human condition, and that it is involved in an "important crusade" to counter messages of otherness and inwardness with empathy and connection.

Fellow writer, broadcaster and cleric Dr Richard Holloway underscored these themes in his closing keynote, which emphasised the power of reading in connecting a divided world.

"We see things not as they are but as we are… the power of publishers is showing the elephant of reality as it is", said Holloway, adding that books have the potential to "divide as well as unite" if different types of literature are not explored. 

Holloway also discussed the "culturally repugnant other" - how each side of opposing ideologies sees the other.

"It's true of the debate going on in States at the moment on the subject of guns, we’re doing the same with the subject of Brexit", said Holloway. "What books and learning and reading help us to do is to tone the thing down and listen… learn to be quiet and listen to the silent whisper."

The conference also saw agent Julia Kingsford and Virginie Clarke of Moon Lane Ink discuss reaching and building new audiences, journalist David Robinson and publicist Fiona Brownlee talk about working with print media and maximising PR opportunities and Jo Shaw of Nielsen Book speaking about using Thema to increase discovery of books.