University Bookseller, Plymouth closes after 42 years

University Bookseller, Plymouth closes after 42 years

The University Bookseller, Plymouth has closed after 42 years.

The academic bookshop shut its doors for the last time on 18th December after finding that academic books had become “impossible” to sell profitably, according to the owner.

The store was part of the Southwest mini chain owned by Ron Johns and opened in 1973. Johns told The Bookseller that stubbornly low discounts from academic publishers in comparison to those offered by trade houses made continuing to operate the shop unsustainable.  

“We were finding it impossible to run a bookshop on 30% discount from publishers,” Johns said. “What also doesn’t help is that information is now available everywhere. When you ask a young person to find something out, they do not go to a bookshop for a book, they don’t even go to Amazon, they go to Google to find out instead. The knowledge industry has substantially changed. I really cannot see that anybody has a job in selling textbooks to people in the future.”

Publishers selling directly to Plymouth University where the shop is based helped to seal its fate, John’s said.

“We had a breakthrough with Plymouth University when it gave its students an electronic card to spend money in our shop, but the institution found it was cheaper to buy e-books for the students directly from publishers, so that’s what it did,” he said.

The bookshop’s sales had been declining for roughly the last five years. “We have seen some amazing times selling academic books, which at one point was at the heart of bookselling, but not anymore,” Johns added.

Johns’ son Dan Johns ran the bookshop and will now oversee the running of the mini-chain’s Dartmouth store along with its soon-to-be-opened shop in Padstow. One member of staff who had worked at The University Bookseller for 15 years was also made redundant.
However, despite the store closure, Ron Johns said the company would still continue to sell academic books in a pop-up shop basis from its new warehouse in Saltash, Cornwall.  

The bookshop has previously hit The Bookseller headlines after Dan Johns warned publishers about the consequences of selling directly to institutions in his role as the chairman of the Bookseller Association’s academic, publishing and scholarly (APS) committee.

At the APS conference in March 2014, Johns said that direct selling by publishers to universities was destroying the trust built up over years between bookshops and publishers and intimated publishers’ reps were using reading list information provided by bookshops in order to obtain direct sales for publishers.