Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Bookselling - how it is for me

Here's a truism for you: attempting to browbeat your customers by making them feel guilty for shopping elsewhere is a surefire way to make sure they carry on shopping elsewhere.   No one likes to shop somewhere you feel obligated: that's not the sort of relationship we have with shops.  I like to shop in places which make me feel good, not one where I buy something; anything, out of duty and then scurry out, feeling the accusatory eye of the owner upon me.

But what do you, the shopkeeper, do when things are bad; so bad that you can see the writing on your bank manager's wall and none of it is positive?  When you provide services by the plenty that people happily use and like, but which aren't paid for?  When despite all those said services and added value, your core business is not actually making you any money?  I commend the Wood Green Bookshop for coming out and saying OUCH - we are in danger.  It's the great big elephant in the bookselling room at the moment I'm quite sure.  It's hardwired into most retailers' brains not to say that things are bad, because the moment you do you suspect your already dicey situation will plummet into freefall. 

But maybe if people just love what you do, maybe that might make the difference.  The Wood Green Bookshop aren't beating people about the head, they're being honest.  

So you might wonder from reading this, how are times for me?  Am I skirting round the issue myself?  Well yes I am. Times are hard.   I channel Pollyanna, I am Miss Positive, but when my husband asked me yesterday about this month's figures, I told him they were terrible.  50% of the same time last year.  Figures for the year to date are around 30% down.   Did I see any light on the horizon, he asked?  No, I said, absolutely none.  Couldn't think of a single other thing to do.  A single other thing to try.

I am still making a profit, but it's the most tremendous slog to do it, and I'm not sure how fair it is to my family to continue.  Having said that, I have been self-employed for a long time now, and as I am rapidly approaching 50 I'm not sure getting a job is going to be particularly easy, so might well be carrying on bookselling for sheer lack of anything else, but that's another story.

There is actually a PS to this:  when I opened up the PC yesterday morning after the rather negative conversation with OH, I had had more orders in overnight than in the entire previous month.  I don't know why, but I am very grateful.  Thank you, lovely customers, thank you.

And another PS - been sitting here for a while now wondering if it is the right thing to do to press the Publish Post button, but what the heck.  Doing it now.

7 comments:

lyzzybee said...

I think it was wise and brave to do this and I'll try to buy some books from you soon!

Christina Wilsdon said...

*sigh* just went out for drinkies last week and amongst the people at the event were a local bookseller; she was talking about Amazon and other issues, and we were all lamenting the demise of another neighborhood indy bookseller, who says the Kindle's done in that shop--a customer, for example, who used to walk out with 4 hardbacks at a time has not been in since getting a Kindle.

During the worst of the recession things were equally dark here at the other end of the book trade (the writing of the tomes) and questioning the career is likewise constant so I know where you're coming from!

Juxtabook said...

Your sales figures are grim but familiar. Hope things pick up soon for us both.

Jane Badger said...

Thank you lyzzy! I did try to avoid mentioning Amazon, Christina, but it's impossible. I am sorry to hear about your local bookshop. Thank you for the fellow feeling!

Juxtabook - I hope things pick up soon for us all.

Meg Rosoff said...

It's a bad time for writers too, with advances being cut and sales dodgy. Where are you located? Do you ever do live pony book events?
I've become friends with KM Peyton, who's a very entertaining and feisty 81 -- and we're doing an event or two together....what do you think?
xMeg

Meg Rosoff said...

Jane -- (this might be my second comment -- not sure the other one worked) What about some pony book events at your shop? Despite not being a proper pony book writer, I'm a pony and pony book fanatic, and have recently become fast friends with KM Peyton, who, at 81, is fabulously articulate, acerbic and still writing -- we're doing an event together at Marilyn Brocklehurst's Children's Book Centre in Norfolk, would be happy to extend our "tour" to you.
What do you think? It would be great fun....
xMeg

Jane Badger said...

How lovely to hear from you! I don't actually have a bricks and mortar shop, alas. I wonder though if there's some other way this could work? I will mull. I loved your The Bride's Farewell, by the way.