Sunday, 18 November 2012

Books, bookselling and passion

A few years ago I was going to open a children's bookshop. My husband had a little bit of redundancy money and, as I had never heard of double dip recessions let alone triple dip ones, investing it in a business seemed like a good plan at the time, especially as, for the second time in our marriage, both our jobs were threatened at the same time. In the end the money got frittered away on things like mortgage payments, bills and food but the dream was good while it lasted.

For a few splendid weeks I did my homework. I was a bookseller at Waterstones in my early twenties (rising to the dizzying heights of assistant manager, Ilford, just as all the creativity, individuality and fun that made the chain so special was stripped away for bland corporate identity and central buying) and when my daughter was a baby I worked evenings at Border so I know quite a bit about bookselling and had lots of ideas how to make it work in a world dominated by Amazon and in a city with one of the highest shop rental costs in the country.

I did market research, spent a lot of time on the phone to Bertrams and Gardners discussing set up costs and payment plans, I scouted premises and I came up with a brand identity that would work online and off. I planned a website full of blogs, recommendations and interaction and a shop packed with events, friendliness and books for everyone from the expectant mother to the jaded teen.  I even had the logo, name of the shop and perfect set out ready to spring to life.

I also intended to write whilst running the shop and raising the daughter. Just a little ambitious.

However, as the job market was less robust then we realised and the redundancy money disappeared I had to put the dream to one side, found a new job (as thank goodness did my husband, eventually) and carried on with the writing, the daughter raising and trying to make ends meet with varying success.

One thing my shop would have done, though, is support local authors. When I worked at both Waterstones and at Borders that was something really important to us.We had to strike a balance of course between profit and meeting the high expectations of authors, some of whom thought we would be able to sell out an event to launch their local walking guide with no help from the author himself, and we were very selective when it came to self published books. But local authors? Published by one of the big six? Bring them on! That attitude, sadly, seems to have disappeared.

I love books. I love the smell, the sight, the feel of them. I also love my kindle, the ease, the instant nature of it. I know Amazon is partly responsible for the decline of bookshops in this country and right now are under fire for interesting if legal tax arrangements. But if I want a book from Amazon it's there, always. The pricing structure makes it easy for me to take a chance on new authors just as three for two tables once did in Waterstones (is there an apostrophe at the moment? I can't keep up).

I barely enter my old employer now. Once it was the proliferation of celebrity autobiographies everywhere, especially at this time of year, now it's the lack of choice. Three for two guaranteed that I would leave swinging a bag with 2 books for me, one I wanted, one I tried because it was 'free' and one for my daughter. And when my local shop isn't stocking either of my friends' books, despite them both being big six published and one of them set here, in this very city, then I don't want to support that shop either.

If anyone wants to invest in a chain of children's bookshops then I am open to offers! Failing that fingers crossed I win the lottery. Because there is room, a need for well stocked bookshops run by passionate, knowledgeable staff in this country. Bookselling is a skill, bookshops and libraries are important and children need space to learn to love books.

No comments: