When meeting the personable and upbeat Jane Streeter, who has been the president of the Booksellers Association since May, it is easy to forget that booksellers are facing tough times. The indie owner has a long history in the book trade— she previously worked at Hammicks and has run her own shop, The Bookcase in Lowdham, Nottinghamshire, for 15 years— and is well placed to lead the BA's members into a rapidly changing future.
She sees her BA post as: "...a huge privilege and a great responsibility. I see it as both an active role and a supportive one. When I decided to take it on it was a big decision for many reasons, mainly if I was going to do it, I wanted to do it well and be able to have my own projects and try and do good things."
Streeter is aware that booksellers are facing tough times. Her approach is hands on, and she believes that being proactive with different campaigns and building healthy relationships with publishers is vital for booksellers to succeed: "I'm not complacent but I am confident. There are problems but there is also lots of positivity out there. Yes, there have been closures, but lots of new shops have opened, too. There is a lot of confidence out there and sometimes in a difficult climate you can actually create some really positive relationships as people work together and collaborate in different ways."
As well as visiting publishers' sales teams and highlighting the importance of sales reps working with booksellers at shop level, Streeter is working on three new initiatives: a National Reading Group Day (which will happen sometime in the summer and will see bookshops across the country hosting book groups at the same time); a Retail Calendar (a wall chart that highlights different events throughout the year, supported by promotional material to help give bookshops a focus point for selling all year round); and Book Relief (a large-scale charitable event for literary projects that Streeter aims to fully focus on after her presidency ends in May 2012, but for which she is laying the groundwork now).
Streeter is also looking forward to World Book Night, which she describes as a really incredible project with a fantastic head of steam. Chairing the bookselling sub-committee for it she explains that the next stage is "to put together a plan of how booksellers can use it to their benefit and make sure that booksellers remain at the heart of it".
Streeter is realistic about the trade's shift to digital and believes it is vital for all bookshops, no matter their size, to have an online presence. The Bookcase's own transactional website has been running for three years, generating around 10% of the shop's turnover. Streeter explains: "Digital developments are happening so rapidly, and I never try to speculate, but I think you need to have a focused presence online. Wholesalers can help independents when it comes to e-books and [the BA] will have a session just for them on the Google Books side of things, because we want to make sure we're in that loop."
She adds: "Digital will affect us all at different rates and it's our job to let customers know that they can get e-books from physical bookshops— but physical bookshops selling physical books are also still essential and my main focus is to make sure everything we do, across the trade, increases our chances of selling books."
For Streeter one of the strengths of the BA is its diversity and she says that one of the biggest joys of being both a member and president is seeing representatives from independents, chains and supermarkets working together. She says: "Having an independent sitting in on the same group as representatives from Waterstone's and Sainsbury's is a really interesting mix and it gives us much more power to go to publishers and say: 'We'd like to do these things now, how can we work together?" When it comes to independents, chains and the supermarkets I don't see it as an 'us versus them' situation. We have the Independent Booksellers Forum within the BA, but the BA is a broad organisation with representatives from across the trade and, to me, that is its strength."
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- Eowyn Ivey | "We can't reinvent endings, but what we can do is express the joy as it is there"
- Tom Holland | "There are as many views as to what happened in early Islam as there are scholars writing about it.
- Dara O'Briain | "There are splinters under my fingernails from the scraping of the barrel that is my life."
- Artemis Cooper | "There were certain things he wouldn’t have wanted to see in print"