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.

The Benefits of an Arts Education

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Art. It is everywhere. It is treasured, it provokes thought, it has the potential to allow each of us to express our innermost feelings, sometimes it disgusts, but overall it is considered to be one of the key factors within a functional society

This is something that I have been considering for quite some time and it has been exacerbated more in recent months.

Having studied art in the past, and more recently an MA in Publishing, I have on many occasions felt the negativity aimed towards those studying or having studied art from those who have studied practically any other subject.

Years ago I read an article (that for the life of me I cannot now find) that clearly pointed out the benefits of an employee with an arts education for employers in all industries. As I haven’t been able to find the aforementioned article I thought I would take it upon myself to lay out all the reasons and skills that I personally believe those with an art education make great employees and why their choosing to study art can be a huge benefit within any industry. Believe me or not but based on my experience this is what I have found.

Artists have to use core employment skills right from the very start (not just in their final year).

In making art you most often spend a lot of time working independently and there are still deadlines and expectations as in the more academic fields. Artists ‘bumming off’ happens probably about as much as it does in any subject, perhaps less. These are usually people so passionate about their subject and art that they spend all the time they possibly can working on it. They have to learn early on to manage their own time, work to a tight budget (those student loans only go so far and art supplies are incredibly expensive), present their work to a large group of peers, take constructive criticism, project manage and keep records of practically every move they make (at least artistically) to then be dissected by tutors. They work independently and collaboratively and probably started being self employed long before they graduated. They design, communicate and market themselves at every turn. They work for clients, have been clients and have probably more experience in contracts because of this than many within academic subjects. The arts draws in a range of different people with a range of different interests and a range of different skills but an arts education definitely gives you the following:

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1. Effective communication and presentation skills (It’s not all visual you know)

Essays and dissertations are par of the course when you study anything at university level it seems. Just because we paint, draw, photograph or whatever, doesn’t mean we haven’t had to write thousands of words, compile a seemingly endless bibliography and create at least one academic piece of writing to wow our tutors. We can also use our words. Communication and presenting your work, pitching it even, on a regular basis is a large part of an arts education.

2. Facing and accepting constructive criticism.

I’ve mentioned it already but in the arts you are regularly expected to share your work with peers and tutors and face the criticisms that come your way. You are then expected to go away, reflect and react accordingly. Maybe this is similar in more academic subjects, it has been key in my MA, but what I have faced in that time will never compare with showing your art (some may say your soul) to others and hearing that it is “rubbish”, “brilliant”, “needs more work”, etc. This prepared me beyond belief for what I faced in the working world after education.

3. IT skills

Yes we live in the digital age and now it feels like everybody knows how to use computers and a range of programs extremely well. I will probably never have the computer skills that my eleven year old goddaughter will have but throughout my BA we were expected to learn so many computer skills that I find it hard to believe those in more academic subjects had to learn. Adobe Photoshop – check, InDesign – check, Illustrator – check, Dreamweaver – check, Microsoft Word – check, Excel – check, HTML – check … and that was whilst studying photography. My illustrator and video friends were skilled in using so many other programs I cannot tell you.

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4. Project management and teamwork

Have you funded, organised and run an exhibition of over 30 individuals who are all producing artworks of completely different size, media and let’s face it, with artists varying in levels of ego? Well this is all par of the course within the arts in the form of the ever-important final degree show and probably even before. More importantly these shows could be your big break so they have to be done to a professional standard befitting the audience you wish to be visiting. Though artists may be seen as insular creatures this is the time, if not before, when great teamwork comes into play. The whole show is dependent on the team working together effectively and regardless of any qualms.

5. Brand management and business management

You are defined by your brand and in the arts this could mean the difference between no work and no money to work and enough money to live on so nowadays you are trained in self-branding when studying the arts … whether you want to or not. Artists are all over social media, have often built their own website from scratch and are networking with the best of them. The same goes for business management. As an artist it is entirely possible you will be self employed down the line so yes, learning about taxes, contracts, copyright law and still managing to market yourself AND produce the works they’re being paid for. Can you say multi-tasking?!

6. Passion

Though not a skill, I think it’s worth pointing out that artists tend to be extremely passionate. If they are passionate about your company, your ethos or just the work that they are doing for you I think you have one very important factor covered. With passion comes loyalty, hard work and quite often a quality of work most befitting to the job in hand.

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7. Research

Art students don’t just have to produce a piece of work and that’s it. They have to back up their final works with research too. Research into techniques, artists with similar style or the general feel they wish to achieve through their own work, evidence of trial and error, the list can go on. In my case I once researched everything I could about electromagnetic cameras, including schematics, every failure I made in building one, all the various options for parts required, the history of such a concept, how they had been used in the past and the various ways in which they might be used by myself for my art. Research is a large part of any art, whether you consider it traditional research or not.

8. Professional development 

It seems to me that most artists are not comfortable with staying still; they are always experimenting, learning new skills and attempting to push further. This is a trait I would consider integral in any employee, no matter the industry, no matter the skill to be honest. Maybe i’m wrong overall but in the case of myself and those who I studied with I know this to be true. It was never enough to learn a skill and stick to that only, the real fun was in learning new skills, new systems, new ways to do things, whether it be coding, new software, new technologies, old technologies or even crafting artisan perfumes (I sometimes think I saw it all). This is something that has benefited me greatly in my working life and my personal life. I am endlessly curious about everything and learning whatever I can and I watch my university friends, now scattered across a range of industries and each of them has learned skills I doubt even they imagined they would go on to learn.