ALLi's newest campaign is to encourage indie authors and bricks-and-mortar booksellers to work together to mutual benefit. Full details will be rolled out over the coming months. As an overture to the campaign, here is a transcript of the speech that Debbie Young used to launch the campaign, live at IndieReCon in iconic London independent bookshop Foyles, on Friday 17th April,
Joining Debbie to launch the campaign was Piers Alexander, whose own speech, explaining what inspired him to suggest the campaign in the first place will be published here separately very soon.
Standing in this beautiful new Foyles store to launch ALLi’s Authors For Bookstores campaign, for a moment we can fool ourselves that reports of the decline of bricks-and-mortar bookshops are greatly exaggerated.
This shop is a fantastic temple to the written word, rising like an Aztec pyramid housing literary deities, and I defy anyone to walk through it without wanting to pick up books, stroke them, browse them and buy them to take them home.
But bookshops are becoming an endangered species. Two years ago, The Bookseller reported their number fell for the first time in living memory to below 1,000. In 2014, they plummeted to 939. BUT it’s not because books are going out of style. What’s changing is people’s buying habits. People are moving away from traditional bookshops, or only setting foot in them to “showroom” – the new term that describes checking out the physical product in store before going home to buy it online.
Once big chains of traditional booksellers were on every high street. Now they’re mostly in retreat, either disappearing completely, downsizing or pulling out of traditional strongholds. On yesterday’s morning news bulletin, it was suggested that WHSmith are quietly moving from high street to travel sites – airport shops, motorway service stations – where people still purchase books in shops, but only because ordering online isn’t an option when you’re off on your holidays and want to pick up a beach read in the departure lounge.
But it’s not all gloom and doom – some stores are still expanding. Foyles is opening new stores outside London At LBF yesterday, a bullish Waterstones announced that it’s planning to be more experimental. New-style bookshops are springing up. Beatons Tea Rooms chain, is part cafe, part bookshop, only 15% bookshop, but what a winning combination!
Such news is encouraging, but the fact remains that in the last 10 years, we’ve lost a third of our bookshops. A third. That’s 500 bookshops.
No bookshop is an island. The closure of each one diminishes every author’s lot. Can you imagine a society in which all book sales are transacted online? That’s a Brave New World that we can do without.
At ALLi, we believe that as authors, we have a duty to help redress the balance.
This doesn’t necessarily mean trying to get your books stocked in store, but that can be done, as ALLi author Piers Alexander has demonstrated, with his own impressive success story. Piers’ example helps dispel the urban myth that bookstores aren’t interested in indies. For more inspiration and advice on that subject, read Chapter 4 of the free book we’re giving you here today. (A free download is available to all ALLi members.)
Whether or not we decide to pitch our books to bookshops – and not all of us can do that viably, nor can trade-published authors, as a matter of fact – there are still many simple and affordable things that authors can do to help high street bookshops thrive.
In fact, we have much more power to help bookshops than we might think. Because we’re not just authors, we’re also bookbuyers.
And we’re not just any bookbuyers, we are bookbuyers with influence. We move in influential circles, sharing recommendations with other authors, writers groups, book groups, and other readers. We drive purchases. We are a powerful force. I’d argue that we should be considered super-customers to the average bricks-and-mortar store.
As super customers, we have a choice. We can ignore bookshops and do all our bookbuying online. But we do that at the peril of authors everywhere, because all that does is increase our dependence on online retailers. We will lose the physical showcase and shopfront that reminds shoppers that books are good things to buy. We will no longer have these fabulous ambassadors for reading on the high street. We’ll be on our own. In the ether. Without professional booksellers.
It’s a no-brainer. We must support them – which includes helping them to evolve into the kind of high street trader that bookstores of the future will need to be, We believe that includes working with them to develop events that will pull more shoppers into their stores. By this we don’t just mean events for readers, but also events for authors. The bookshops of the future could well become hubs of creativity and writing, not just of reading.
ALLi’s #Authors4Bookstores manifesto, to be published shortly on our website, proposes 20 easy actions which are within your power. Most of them will cost you little or nothing to carry out. And every time you do any one of them, you’ll be helping physical bookshops to survive.
You’ll also be helping to build a better relationship between authors and booksellers, and between you and your local bookshop.
Here are four of the 20 easy actions, starting with the most obvious:
- If you plan to buy a print book, buy it from your nearest shop, not online.
- On your author website. alongside your online buying links, suggest your readers shop local. Bookshops will always order a book at the request of a customer, even if they don’t usually stock it. And if a bookseller likes your book when he sees it, he may even decide to start stocking it.
- Show your local bookseller a bit of online love: like their Facebook page, comment on their posts, share their posts; follow them on Twitter, RT key posts, #FF them for Follow Fridays. Costs you nothing, and you don’t even have to leave your desk.
- If they have an instore loyalty card, sign up for one. Who could resist having a store card branded Foyalty?
Such things may not rank as rocket science – but they’re every bit as practical.
Although we may be grateful to online retailers and distribution platforms for empowering the modern author, there is room in the lives and businesses of authorpreneurs for retailers of all kinds.
We lose any of these parties at our peril.
We’re launching this campaign today in London, in a quintessentially British independent bookshop, but it’s replicable wherever you live in the world. We’ll be helping and encouraging not just ALLi members, but authors of all kinds, to implement it globally over the coming months. Today we just want to sound the rallying cry, and where better to do it?
So for today, the takeaway message is very simple: ask not what bookshops can do for you – but what you can do for bookshops.
Let’s work together to keep bookshops on the high street as a universal temple to the author’s trade, as embassies of reading, for the greater good of booksellers, writers, and readers all over the world.
Thank you.Launch of new #Authors4Bookstores campaign by @DebbieYoungBN @PiersAlexander Click To Tweet
OVER TO YOU
Stand by for further information, advice and calls to action for authors and booksellers alike, to be shared here and elsewhere very soon.