Q: What does the Booksellers Association do?
A: The purpose of the Booksellers Association Group (http://www.booksellers.org.uk/) is: "to do everything in our power to help members of all types and sizes to prosper in a trading environment that is continually changing, by helping them to increase sales and reduce costs, by representing their views to suppliers, the government, the media and others, and by providing a range of services that offer the prospect of financial benefits to any member well in excess of any monies paid to the association."
Our 'vision' is to be the best trade association of our size and to make membership of the BA 'a must' for any serious bookseller.
The BA consists of the Booksellers Association of the UK & Ireland Ltd trade association (established in the late 19th century); National Book Tokens and the internet payments and business system, Batch.co.uk. The BA is on the board of the World Book Day charity; is a sponsor of the annual London Book Fair; is part owner of the book industry supply chain company, Book Industry Communication Ltd and is a member of both the British Retail Consortium and the European Booksellers Federation.
The BA represents over 95% of booksellers in over 4,400 retail outlets who sell new books. Shops in membership range from large chains to small independent booksellers including internet booksellers, museum & gallery shops, supermarkets, library & school suppliers and wholesalers.
Our services range from the commercial, such as reduced rates on credit and debit cards and a tailor made insurance scheme, to the practical, such as the Christmas Books catalogue and carrier bags, to the intangible but invaluable, such as representation to Government and the EU.
We offer advice and information in a multitude of areas, from book prize winners to price marking legislation; we run conferences, meetings and events across the country and throughout the year; we help market bookshops through co-operative action such as the Small Business Forum and the Love Your Local Bookshop campaign; we publish invaluable trade directories of publishers, booksellers and suppliers to the trade; we talk to other organisations on their behalf; provide financial advice through a network of independent financial advisors and run a stockists scheme with the Open University.
Q: How is life changing for the average bookseller in the UK, and what are the challenges facing booksellers today?
A: Booksellers have to live with fierce price competition in the sale of bestsellers and have to develop excellent marketing strategies to find customers and be profitable. As in all other high street retailing, there continues to be a concentration as chains merge, but new opportunities are still opening up, especially in niche areas.
Digitisation of content is high on the agenda for publishing and academic and professional bookshops face great challenges as education and the professions move to more online sources of information. However, overall book sales are still going up the ‘death of the book’, as often foretold, has yet to happen. In fact, thanks to the new technologies, more and more books are published every year in every subject imaginable.
Booksellers today need to:
- Be fleet of foot
- Develop an individual style
- Adopt superb handselling
- Know their customers
- Be involved with the community
- Have an ethical appeal - be more green
- Have a fully transactional web presence
- Have a simple electronic supply chain
- Adopt ruthless cost control
Q: When you are approached by a new bookseller preparing to open a bookshop for the first time, what’s your first piece of advice?
A: Owning a bookshop may seem a natural and attractive proposition if you love and have a great knowledge of books. However, your love and knowledge have to be combined with business acumen if your bookshop is to succeed. Remember that at the end of the month, like any other retail business, you will have to meet the cost of rent, rates, telephone, electricity, bank charges, and salaries, not to mention payments to your suppliers.
In addition, you will be competing against existing bookshops. Try to think of a special niche to fill, sell something different, or in today's business jargon, come up with a unique selling proposition. So make sure you:
- have the necessary knowledge and experience;
- have the right financial backing; and
- are prepared to work hard.
The Complete Guide to Starting and Running a Bookshop, published by the Booksellers Association, is an excellent starting point which provides the reader with the necessary background.
In addition, the best way to learn about bookselling is to work in a bookshop. Even a week or two can give you a sense of the day-to-day realities of the trade, such as dealing with all those unfamiliar faces and demands, working on a till, ordering stock, looking after the existing stock, handling invoices - an experience otherwise impossible to achieve in any other way. If you are new to business, see if a local college runs courses for business beginners.