My career in books began in Oxford almost by accident, more out of need than in the expectation of becoming a lifetime’s profession. Yet that first experience proved to be a true foundation for me as a bookseller. It’s a job you learn from others, on your feet, on the shop floor, with the support and guidance of a team. In Oxford, and ever since, I’ve learned that above anything else, what makes a bookshop are its people: the relationships they forge with their customers, and with each other.
As booksellers, we are experiencing important changes in the way we work. The market and the industry are transforming around us. Competition with Amazon; the heavy discounts given to larger chains, which allow them in turn to discount books to a point at which other shops are priced out of the market; the drain of sales from the chains to supermarkets; the economic crisis; unrealistically high rents for commercial premises – all these factors are contributing to the disappearance of many fantastic independent bookshops. We have had to adapt to new and different challenges, many of which alter the dynamics and soul of the small neighbourhood bookshop.
We have found new ways to reach our customers. The integration of social media, web content, email and online sales has forced booksellers to rethink how we communicate; the challenge is to make sure our breadth of knowledge and depth of experience is preserved in this new engagement. We hope to be able to remind readers of the joy of browsing in and sharing a space; we must find ways to convey our beliefs, our values and our passions.
It’s now a year since I joined the London Review Bookshop. Like other independent bookshops, we have been in a state of flux – a wondrous and joyous flux, transferring knowledge and information to each other constantly. As booksellers, we have exercised our freedom of choice to remain in the industry, despite its often turbulent conditions, and work together with hope, optimism, and a lot of fantastically funny and happy moments. At its core, it has been a tremendous year of change – and an enormous amount of fun!