Yesterday’s news that REDgroup Retail has been placed in voluntary administration has had a massive impact within the bookselling and publishing community. REDgroup owns the bookselling chains Angus & Robertson and Borders, which between them account for approximately 30% of the market. If they are to disappear, the change in the market will be huge. We will all feel it, from independent booksellers to major publishers.
There is no joy in this news for us. While there is certainly a perception that independent booksellers and large chain stores have been locked in mortal combat for some time, I don’t believe that this is entirely true. We have catered for different markets and have had a different focus. While the large chains have tended to focus on top sellers, books with high margins and diversification into gifts and homewares, indies like Shearer’s have still regarded the love of books as the cornerstone of what we do. When you walk into a chain store you expect to see massive quantities of that month’s bestselling books. When you walk into an indie you expect to see a diverse range of titles, including many new books that you may not have heard of.
With this in mind we feel great sympathy for our colleagues who may shortly find themselves out of work. We also feel sympathy for the customers who regularly had their book buying needs filled by these stores.
For the overall market a dramatic decline like this adds to the myth that booksellers are dying out. But I ask you to consider this; how long have people been proclaiming the death of the novel? Bookselling is not about to vanish, despite what you may have heard. There are things we provide that simply cannot be found in chains or online.
Service is a big part of what we do. When you visit an indie you know that you’re going to meet staff that love books. In fact, part of the requirement to work at an independent bookseller is experience, knowledge of relevant issues and databases and a familiarity with literature. In Shearer’s we have a team of staff that are able to handle any book request – no matter how obscure the title may be.
Community and culture are intrinsic to indie bookstores. We all have individual personalities and different visions of the bookselling environment we personally want to thrive in. This is reflected in the way we lay out our stores, the different genres and authors we choose to emphasise and the particular sales and promotions we choose to undertake. This in turn is a reflection of the communities we live in. Being small means that we are able to adapt to changing needs faster and with less fuss.
Other aspects of our work include author events, book clubs, loyalty cards, children’s storytime and having dedicated genre specialists – things you don’t get online or at chain stores.
Independent bookstores are thriving hubs of book loving communities. We may never make huge amounts of money but do you know what? We’re ok with that. That sounds like a radical thing to say in an economic culture that tells us that being number one is the only thing worth going for. But it’s true. We’re here because we want to be here. We’re passionate and knowledgeable about our products. We revel in the thrill of meeting the authors we admire and getting to sneak peeks at books that won’t be on the market for months. We love our customers and the conversations we have with them about these things, these stories and words that we love so much.
While we’ve served different needs for different groups, the impact of this will be felt in many ways, some of which we won’t see coming. But to those who are taking this as a sign that booksellers are about to die out, think again. I’m writing this while looking out over a thriving and vibrant book-buying community. They’re here now, and so are we. Neither of us seem to be going anywhere, for the moment.
The most important thing you can do is support your local bookstore. I’m not going to simply plug Shearer’s, I’m going to plug everyone. We indies are also part of a community and we respect and genuinely like each other. So this weekend if you want to go shopping then shop at Shearer’s and Pages & Pages, Gleebooks, Abbeys, Galaxy, Better Read Than Dead, Constant Reader and all the other fantastic stores that are out there.
Written by Mark