I recently went on a tour of bookshops in the company of ace Hachette sales managers Bob Mackenzie and Ian Williamson. As well as meeting the lovely folk from the ‘big’ names, I was lucky enough to meet a number of independent bookshop owners and managers. The first thing that struck me was the wonderful stories that had brought these people to their calling. For many it was simply serendipity, a chance twist of fate that suddenly provided them with the opportunity to follow a dream. For others it was a linear progression from book lover to bookstore summer job to world-bestriding colossus i.e. owner of their very own book emporium. Of course, the glue that bound all of these wonderful people together – and bound them to the authors whose works fill their shops – is the love of literature. Book selling in the world of the independent is truly a calling. Margins are wafter thin, hours are often long, sales are rarely predictable. And yet, as I talked to store managers and owners about my book, literature, their cats, kids and the arcane arts of book selling, I realised that there was something else that these individuals had in common … they were happy! They were happy because when they awoke each morning it was to the knowledge that they would spend another day in the company of books or that they might arrive at work to find a proof sent to them of a book that they will instantly love. One incident stays with me. At the Primrose Hill Bookshop I was astounded to see a panicked customer charging in, in dire need of a birthday gift for a loved one. ‘Leave it to me’, the store owner said authoritatively. ‘I know her tastes.’ Needless to say a recommendation was swiftly forthcoming invoking a great sigh of relief from our customer. It is this bond between seller and customer that leads to me believe that whatever the soothsayers and doom-mongers predict, the little bookshop around the corner will be around for a good while yet.
Below are some pictures of my day trolling around Foyles, Waterstones, Blackwell’s, Hatchard’s, Waterstones Oxford, Waterstones Reading-Oracle, Waterstones Reading, Blackwell’s Oxford, The Riverside Bookshop, Primrose Hill Bookshop, Belgravia Books, The Wallingford Bookshop, and The Bell Bookshop in Henley-on-Thames