Bookshops in the UK and Ireland must “invest” to become “the best in the world,” the Bookseller Association president Tim Walker has told delegates at the Bookseller Association Conference in Warwick this morning (22nd September).
Walker made the rallying cry for bookshops to arm-up in the face of digital and online bookselling, telling the delegation that bookshops were still publishers’ and authors’ “very best route to market”.
Booksellers will succeed by engaging better with customers and reminding them that “bookshops are still the very best places to discover books,” Walker said. “In this modern bookselling era of p-books and e-books, the world has not ended for bookshops as many predicted. Yes it is tough, but print book sales through bookshops are still strong and whilst it is easy to become distracted by the allure of digital media, we must maintain publishers’ and authors’ focus on the fact that booksellers and bookshops are still their very best route to market.”
He added: “We should reiterate our belief that booksellers believe in freedom, diversity, partnership and a profitable book industry for all. We all need this profitability. Booksellers must invest to make our bookshops some of the best in the world.”
Walker also called on publishers to print high quality physical books and make sure they put “authors back at the heart of our trade” by paying them higher royalties.
“Publishers must continue to take risks, to discover exciting new authors and to publish books that are printed up to a specification and not down to the lowest price; and, of course, we booksellers want to see authors back at the heart of our trade being fairly and richly rewarded for their work,” Walker said. “We must reassure publishers and authors that as true partners, we booksellers will strive to work with them to bring the best of British and Irish publishing to the widest possible audience.”
Walker also welcomed new bookshops to the Association, praising their “excitement”, “drive” and “enthusiasm” for “breathing new life into our bookshops”, and said the industry should recognise more the great work that bookshops do. “In spite of all of this talent and passion and customer satisfaction, as an industry we are terribly bad at recognising the fantastic work that goes on in all of our bookshops, up and down the country, every single day,” he said.
He revealed that 73 of the 183 bookshops applying for James Patterson bookshop grants (up to £5,000 per shop) had been successful, with names to be revealed next week.
Walker’s speech followed on from a welcome note from conference chair Cathy Rentzenbrink, Quick Reads director and The Bookseller associate editor, in which she highlighted the integral work booksellers did in sharing and spreading knowledge of books around the world.
“The world in some ways has become smaller,” she said. “I know people who walk down Chiswick High Road, looking in the windows of WH Smiths and Waterstones and then sit in a café ordering the e-books that they most liked the look of. We can call it showrooming, we can let it irritate us, or we can realise that it is part of today’s world and that we should be underlining it as part of the value we offer. The value of the bookshop to the book trade is no longer simply the money that goes via the bookshop till. When books like The Miniaturist dominate the bestseller charts for weeks on end, when a debut author ends up touring in America, some part of that is due to a model-making bookseller in Doncaster [creating an influential window display].”
Also speaking at the BA Conference, which began yesterday (21st September) are author and comedian David Mitchell, Hachette’s David Young, Waterstones’ retail director Rik McShane and Enders analyst Douglas McCabe. The conference is taking place at Warwick University.