This is the year….

I’ve been thinking, or rather, stewing. I’m good at that, i’m one of life’s over-thinkers, but boy was 2016 a year for it. I found myself swallowed by probably the worst bout of depression i’ve had in at least ten years. Everywhere I turned, there seemed more reason to be horrified by the world and my part in it. The bleak political outlook, the seemingly endless deaths of celebrities, politicians and strangers alike, the shift in society and a thick, visceral tension that could be felt everywhere – it was all too much and my place in it all seemed hopeless, powerless and without direction.

You see, I realised through my stewing that I had wasted most of my 20’s. Instead of doing all the things that those around me were doing (travelling, working towards the dream job, buying houses, living) I had committed to being ‘a wage slave’ (a term I’m not comfortable with, but for want of a better one it shall do). I had left uni, moved to London, taken the first job I could get and unwittingly dedicated my life to just doing what had to be done to get by, to pay the exhorbitant and ever-increasing rents of London. It started with a dream of course, a “this is just a bridge to get to where I really want to be” mindset, but before I knew it I was working 6 days a week for just enough to get buy and no idea, energy or time to push ahead. Every now and then I pushed back a little, I took courses to take me further but then, when 8p noodles and months of unpaid internships got stale, I would always get swept back in.

It’s kind of funny – I remember as a small child hearing some of my family around me moaning about their jobs and the need to sell your soul to do the things you want to do.  I swore I would never do that, never be one of them, I didn’t want to be rich so as far as I was concerned that was the end of it. Poor naive me, I didn’t realise then that more often than not you aren’t selling your soul to be rich, you’re selling your soul to get by. Principles and dreams don’t very often keep a roof over your head and food on your table. So almost without realising it, I had left many of my principles and much of my fight by the roadside, and my soul…well that’s still to be seen.

I reached 2017, I survived it, and with my one final year of my twenties left ahead of me I vowed to fight, to fight for the me I really want to be. This year I committed to learning more, to enjoying more, to choosingand appreciating people and places and beauty above money, to respecting my own and other people’s time and to following my dreams. I promised myself the use of my voice and my actions, my privelege and mind to change even some tiny piece of the world, to make it a place I want to live in.

It came to me that I may just happen to want some children in the next few years (not particularly likely as, until now and even now, I have been thoroughly against the idea) but if that was to happen, it wouldn’t be into this world as it is. Even if I don’t, I have neices and nephews and godchildren who I adore, who in my darkest times I am paralysed with fear for. This isn’t the world I signed up for, the future as I see it, it isn’t the one I want to see them swamping through, and though I am only one small person amongst billions, I have found my fight again.

If I acheive nothing, well, at least in ten years I won’t look back and say I wasted another decade of my life being someone i’m not, being another ‘like it or lump it’ person. If no change comes, at least I can say I enjoyed my time, followed my heart and my principles. But I am a beleiver, a cynical optimist, and perhaps one small person really can make a difference. Maybe, then, I will be able to say that my twenties were the time that I reclaimed my soul.

 

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‘Ethical’ Book-buying

I’ve been away for quite a while. I won’t bore you with the details but basically there’s been a whole lot going on, both personally and in the world, and not enough time or headspace for everything. But today I felt a little inspired and so decided to ignore the washing up and write instead.

This sunny Sunday morning I had the strongest urge to go be immersed in a lovely (fairly local) independent bookshop I know – The Chiswick Bookshop. I rarely get enough time to go out of my way and visit nowadays but when it opened last year I was so excited. Another indie publisher was taking the leap and opening a physical bookshop and this has been an obsession of mine…well forever.

bookshop

If you love books half as much as I do, you can imagine it was heart-breaking to arrive and see some of my most dreaded posters in the window; “We’re closing. Everything half price”. Needless to say, I went inside, pottered around, looked at every book and item on the shelves and felt genuine grief whilst listening to the staff explaining to the mass of customers that they had to close due to the high rent – the terrible epidemic across our high streets. I bought books and shared my apologies with the staff as the only gestures of solidarity I felt I could make. After all, book people are my tribe, and as book people we stick together anyway we can.

As I walked up the high road I got to thinking – about books, bookshops, publishers, about all the empty shops I passed and all the big chain restaurants, stores and bad coffee shops that surrounded me and I settled on something. I realised  my own personal sense of ‘ethical’ shopping, particularly shopping for books. This isn’t going to change anything really, it won’t force landlords to bring down rents so that we can continue to have the pleasure of independent shops, it won’t necessarily stop any businesses from going under, it won’t change the world that is for sure. But when I do shop, these small principles drive how I do it and I hadn’t realised before that they were even in my head.

  1. If I see a book I want (and can afford at the time) in a physical bookshop, I buy it.
    I’m in the bookshop browsing, using their resources and time, benefitting from their curation and expertise. The least I can do is buy the book I see and want in that environment from the people who allowed me to.

    rrp

  2. I try very hard not to take my phone out in a bookshop (but if I do, I will buy a book from the shop).
    Remember Bernerd Black’s rule – “No phones”? I got it then and I get it now. Perhaps it’s because I have worked in retail and have seen ‘show-housing’ from the business side but to me if you get your phone out in a shop it tends to look like your looking the product up online (perhaps an unfair generalisation but I have known people to do it…ALOT…with no reservation or embarrassment) or actually BUYING the book online where you stand! This is without a doubt the worst thing a customer can do in my mind other than spitting in your face (and I’ve had a few customers sneeze and cough in my face over the years) so just do me a favour and stop visiting shops if this is you!

    There is rarely a time you need to look at your phone in a shop, particularly a bookshop, books aren’t the sort of thing you can buy whilst staring at a screen. But fair enough you might get a call or text that you “absolutely must take” – you don’t have to take it in the shop though. So my rule is, don’t look at your phone, focus on what you’re buying and if you do ‘trip up’ then buy a book. You’ll soon spend less time looking at your phone in shops (it can get expensive)!

    mobilefirst_5

  3. For every book bought on Amazon or as an ebook, buy a book in a physical bookshop too.
    I’m not going to lie – I buy on Amazon occasionally and I have a Kindle (funnily enough I had avoided this like the plague until being surrounded by publishers who owned them, who asked if I had one “as it will make some of the work easier”). Actually, it’s rare I buy a physical book from Amazon (I don’t live so very far from several indie bookshops) – if I fancy an instantaneous read (usually late at night) then I buy an ebook. It happens. I have learned to limit my guilt by making sure for every book I buy in this way, I buy a book in a physical bookshop for balance soon after. It makes me feel better, it means I don’t get too lazy, I get to enjoy pretty books in their natural habitat and later implant them into my natural habitat – I feel it’s a win win situation.

    bookshoppaint

  4. I never argue about the price of a book (even an ebook).
    I never argue, I may decide not to buy, but I don’t go searching it out cheaper elsewhere. Books have a value – it should never come down to who is selling it cheaper (at least not for me). If I won’t pay what is being charged for it then do I really want it? Do I really need it? Probably not. If I want a book enough then I have no qualms paying full price for it or taking advantage if it so happens to be discounted when I do see it. Personally there are some books which, once read, I will say are worth far more than their cover price because of the enjoyment I got out of them or vice versa. The one thing I can say for sure is that a book must surely be worth more than the price of that coffee in town!

There you go – four points – as I said they won’t change the world but I feel better for acknowledging that they live in my brain, guiding my book shopping habits and I feel quite ok with telling you about them.

If you happen to be in Chiswick over the next three days, pop into The Chiswick Bookshop – show them some solidarity, either through a sale or your words. As I said earlier, we  book people need to stick together.

The Chiswick Bookshop

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After a number of years watching independent bookshop numbers decline in the UK we are finally starting to see a number of new independent bookshops opening their doors, from Rogan’s Books in Bedford to the unnamed bookshop/venue aimed at millennials to open on Brick Lane. Though I consider any new bookshops opening to be a treat and a overall a good sign I have a favourite newby – one that just happens to be on my doorstop. This is The Chiswick Bookshop on Turnham Green Terrace. Don’t get me wrong, the surrounding area has a number of wonderful bookshops, and I feel insanely lucky to live so close to Richmond and Chiswick, where I believe I can now count at least seven amazing independent bookshops within easy reach but as newcomers go I have a real soft spot for The Chiswick Bookshop.

The Chiswick Bookshop comes to us from publisher Hyde Park Editions and is run by the publisher’s sales manager, Emily Crane. One of the most beautiful shops on the road, it offers a range of beautiful books as well as gifts and offers that tranquil atmosphere I remember from bookshops from my youth. From the moment you walk through those doors there is no pressure, you are free to browse and enjoy the many books on display as well as have a friendly chat with Emily behind the counter.

What I love most perhaps is that this is another book shop coming from a publisher (and in fact Hyde Park Editions is based in the back office). This is by no means a new idea, there are in fact many out there who do it, including; Daunt Books, Persephone Books (both in London) and Shakespeare and Company (in Paris) to name a few. Years ago this was in fact pretty standard practice for many publishing houses but it has fallen away over the years, yet this is a business model within bookselling that I have been determined for some time will continue to expand. As they say you have to “look to the past to see the future” and it in this instance that I believe the publishing industry should sit up and listen. After all, this is one sure fire way in which you can learn what your customers and potential customers most desire. Booksellers are at the frontline of the bookselling process. Many have given the opinion that publishers should offer stronger support to independent booksellers but I am of a slightly differing opinion, that they should be joining forces.

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I hope very much that this is a trend that we continue to see in the bookselling world and one that I hope will thrive for those who have already stepped forward. There are many other adjustments that I believe it is necessary to make to the standard bookselling business model but this, in my opinion, seems the logical first step and one of the strongest possibilities out there. It is a step I would make in a heartbeat and maybe one that I will have the opportunity to take for myself…

Follow The Chiswick Bookshop on Twitter and show them some support @chiswickbooks

The Future of Bookselling?

Amazon Bookshop

The new Amazon bookshop courtesy of The Bookseller

This is a topic I have purposefully avoided writing about since the completion of my final MA project but with the various tales of more independent booksellers now opening as well as Amazon’s recent foray into opening a physical bookshop I couldn’t resist.

As someone who has dreamed of opening a bookshop for as long as I can remember this is an area of particular interest to me and so I suppose it was quite obvious that my MA final project might turn in this direction and that this is a topic that I follow with near obsession. I wanted to explore some of the possible avenues available for alternative business models in independent bookselling through a method known as the Lean Startup. Through a number of experiments I was able to test my theories directly with the prospective customers and finally tested what I had learned through a pop-up bookshop which included all the ideas that had received the greatest feedback. From this final test I was able to produce a comprehensive business plan, marketing plan and report representing what customers really wanted from their bookshops within my target area.

Pop-Up Bookshop

My final experiment – Pop-Up Bookshop, 2015

The greatest news that I am hearing currently is that of new independent booksellers opening up nationwide who are indeed embracing alternative business models. Now my personal favourite story, courtesy of The Bookseller, reports that a new bookshop is coming to town from the Second Home duo. A two-storey building off Hanbury street, the currently unnamed bookshop will also offer live music, a bar and an in-house printing press.

Rohan Silva told The Bookseller “We think there is a big unmet demand for the type of bookshop we want to produce. If you offer a bookshop with the right experience and space to the young crowd in London, there is a big commercial opportunity. This is a golden moment for bookshops.” The shop will also host a number of events and add a range of alternative experience to it’s customers. When I read about this shop and the plans that the duo have for it I almost whooped for joy. Not necessarily because I believe this is singularly the future for independent bookshops as a whole, but rather, because It is great to see and hear that people are embracing the need to really reconsider the bookselling experience to it’s own customer base, locality and what has the prospect of a future in bookselling.

Second Home

Second home offices, Hanbury Street, London

Again with the news of Amazon’s recent physical bookshop opening in Seattle. Though what they are offering is not everyone’s cup of tea and indeed offers up a lot more questions in the industry, it cannot be denied that they are taking what they have learned and testing it amongst the people who matter. Personally I do not see a chain of Amazon stores dotting our high-streets in the future. To me Amazon excels at what it does online and that is where their power lies, physical retailing is altogether another kettle of fish which it seems hard to believe is quite so easily transferrable to physical retailing. However, it seems logical that Amazon would pursue this avenue, dip their toes in the water if you will, and test their idea on a small scale in order to test it’s viability in our fast-developing market.

What is the future of bookselling? Well this, as Silva said,”is a golden moment for bookshops”. With innovation, bravery and a thorough understanding of what the potential market requires, it seems to me that the future of bookselling has great potential. It is only by taking new innovations to the people that we can truly see what works and what won’t and this will vary from location to location. What does seem clear is that we cannot continue to sell books as has been the way for decade or even generations. My personal view of the future of bookselling (or at least my personal ideal) would see a great deal more booksellers taking on the role of independent publishers as do the likes of Daunt Books, Persephone Books and Shakespeare and Company and in kind to make greater face-to-face sellers of our publishers. Sometimes it takes a glimpse to the past to foresee the future.

You can make a book anywhere, so why London?

This is something I’ve been stewing on for a while and now I’m just going to say it…

Publishing needs to break out of London.

Don’t get me wrong, London is great; living in London you have access to almost everything you might desire. A hub for beautiful art, delicious food, thousands of events every single night, museums and architecture, history and a diversity of people I just haven’t personally seen elsewhere in the UK. It is loud and busy and full of life, there is a buzz, a tangible vibe, sometimes it has you grinning from ear to ear and sometimes it makes you wonder if you’re insane and really it is quite often frustrating as hell.

I grew up in rural Lincolnshire in a village with no public transport, eight miles from school and most of my friends. There was little for us to do apart from trips to the pub or the almost 30 mile journey to the nearest city. I’ll be honest, a trip to the supermarket could be considered an exciting day trip.

Lovely Lincoln

Lincoln City

When I was eighteen I headed south to study art and make my way into the creative industries. Everyone knew the south offered jobs and excitement and the freedom to dress and act any way you like. There are afterall no publishers in Lincolnshire that I know of. In comparison the south seemed to offer so much more. It still offers me enough that I’m sitting here watching the world go by, dreaming of my dream job in a London publishing house, only now I wonder if maybe it is time to realign the balance of those invisible borders.

Leeds Library

Leeds Library

It is quite strange for me now to feel so determined that north of the Thames is where the future of publishing may lie. Big businesses in other industries are already starting to make the move to Manchester as the Financial Times reported earlier this year, Government is promising to rebalance the economy by improving transport links in the north, and best of all, there are even places where you can still buy a lovely home for less than £0.5m…in fact a lot less.

London is home to approximately 300 of the country’s publishing houses, Oxford – 30, Edinburgh – 11 and Cambridge – 10, whilst everywhere else teeters down into the single figures. And I have been sitting for months now wondering if we are all missing a trick? Are we about to again be ridiculed for being left behind whilst the other industries move to where the cost of living is lower, the quality of life could be argued as higher and where, for you parents out there, you don’t have to choose six different schools and just hope and pray you get the good one you want. Is it purely out of a sense of tradition that we remain tied to a city that seems to be feeling smaller and more expensive every single day?

In this age of Skype and email, high speed trains and flexible working hours, a time when we are all squeezing ourselves into smaller and smaller spaces within the South East, why as publishers, for the most part, are we not looking further afield?

Sassy Sheffield

Sassy Sheffield

There are approximately 64m people living in the UK, reports say, approximately 8.6m of which are within London, less than half a million reside in Edinburgh and about a fifth of that number live in Oxford. There are approximately 9m people living within the publishing epicentres themselves and the rest of the UK is made up of a further 55m people. I can’t help but feel that with more and more students opting to stay in their university town or city and more still moving back home with their families I would say that now, more than ever, there are vast numbers of hugely creative, well-educated and forward-thinking individuals living outside the bounds of the industries who would so greatly benefit from hiring them.

Cities and towns nationwide are developing, expanding and looking to their future. They are industrialising once again and publishers need to be at the forefront of that happening in order to better reach their readers.

Melodic Manchester

Melodic Manchester

I could probably go on with this for hours, linking research and figures and a lot more opinions but I will finish with pointing out that there are numerous wonderful publishing houses already working outside the traditional publishing epicentres of London, Edinburgh and Oxford and I have the greatest respect for them. They took a model and flipped it around and are doing it well. Some great publishers out there in the wilds include;

  • Myrmidon Books in Newcastle-upon-Tyne
  • Comma Press in Manchester
  • Salt Publishing in Norfolk

(All photos copyright free from Flickr)