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The bookshop.

In the paper a journalist states that an independent bookshop (X) is a successful example of a good bookshop, and goes on to complain that a chain book store (Y) will be dumbing down and culling its already limited stock further to make way for more chick lit and sleb biogs. She says
“When a bookshop works, there is really nothing quite like it – and X works. As an independent, it cannot compete with the big chains on advertising or discounts. So it has come up with other, more subtle strategies to bring in customers. Its staff, for instance, are passionate and knowledgeable.”
And of course that implies that Y’s staff are not. Yeah, yeah, I’m biased, but truly the booksellers I work with are all kinds of ace. Seriously, you have to care about books to sell them right, it’s not a get rich kinda job, it’s a choice made by full timer’s because they heart books. I am lucky that the branch I work in is full of quirky, non-mainstream delicious books, as well as the usual offers and current best sellers. Well it’d be pretty shit if we didn’t stock the popular stuff too eh? I am sure that the journalist can’t possibly be referring to a shop like ours when she bemoans
“If you’re the kind of person who walks into a bookshop hoping to stumble on as yet unknown treasures that you just won’t be able to resist buying, you’d better forget it.”
because that is exactly the kind of store that we are. It’s a pleasure to browse the store even as a bookseller. I only go in at the week end and there are always fab new titles, intriguing older books and so on. In addition to the stock we have we will order any book that is available for you, or you can order it on-line from our www address. No, all the books in the world do not fit under one roof. Whoo, surprise.
I did work in another shop a few years back that was originally staffed by cool individuals who had a mix of passion and knowledge that the manager was happy to reflect in the stock. Then the manager went to a bigger store, and the new manager was someone for whom books were just a commodity, and the job a stepping stone. The book loving staff left for other branches or new things, and the manager employed people she could easily manage. She didn’t have the confidence in her own abilities to employ sassy intelligent people who could challenge her. She employed drones who would memorise those best sellers, and yet not read any of the books and therefore not be able to comment on, or recommend. That’s an issue of mis-management, not a problem where I now am where the manager is an awesome woman.
I don’t know why I am even bothering to comment on this at all. There is no need for me to do so, nothing to gain from me sitting here on my little blog blathering about it, but I guess that really, it pisses me off that a journalist I like, with a huge readership, makes such a crappy statement in my favourite Sunday paper. And having passionate knowledgeable staff isn’t a subtle strategy for fucks sake, it’s the basic rule in book shops all over.

EDIT. I removed the journalist and books shop names, purely to stop someone at work from finding my blog by googling those words after having had a discussion with them today. It’s just a colleague, who I do like, but who I don’t wish to share my blog revelations with.

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7 responses »

  1. I’m intrigued. I have close friends (and a partner) who used to work at Waterstone’s Deansgate in Manchester, which had a very good reputation for being a particularly good branch.But they all left after becoming disillusioned with the way Waterstone’s was changing nationally (and locally), and everything I’ve heard since has backed up the idea that Waterstone’s is going downhill. Just the other day I heard HMV were planning on closing 30 branches of Waterstone’s and changing policy in the ones remaining open so that more shelf space would be devoted to such things as greetings cards, and less to books.But one of the biggest things I’ve heard people talk about was the “central ordering” strategy that was brought in a few years ago. As I understood it, this meant that local branches no longer had any say in what books were stocked, and they did not have the leeway, for instance, to stock local authors. All ordering was done centrally. And this was borne out (although not proved, by any means – there could have been any number of alternative explanations) by my own experience: I went into a small branch of Waterstone’s yards away from where I work when my book was published, explained that I was a local author and that many of my colleagues were eager to buy my book, and asked them whether they would stock it. They said they didn’t have the power to do such things. And I promise I was very friendly and polite, and kept my frustration to myself (in truth, I felt a bit embarrassed).But in this post you imply that the staff have some influence over what books are ordered. Is this true?

    Reply
  2. P.S. You describe yourself as a writer… do you mind me asking what stuff you write?

    Reply
  3. Erm, it’s a tad difficult to reply actually, as I don’t know the official policy at all. I thought that whilst most stock is ordered from on high, staff could still order other titles, especially ones considered pertinent. (A local author being the perfect example.) I dunno, I feel rubbishly hesitant in commenting for fear of pissing anyone off. I do rather heart my job so I think I’ll just apologise for the lame response and walk away whistling….(I’ll try and find out a bit more at the weekend.)

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  4. I think I know your shop – if it’s the one I’m thinking of it has the best table of obscure fiction I’ve seen anywhere.

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  5. Hello steerforth, nice to see you here, I think we move in similar bloggy circles as you are a very familiar name!And hurrah! We do have a table full of the best obscure fiction. The fiction guy is a wonderful man, and his floor is a treasure trove of words.I see from your profile that you are a Sussex book person, may I ask where you are exactly?

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  6. Not a million miles away from you.

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  7. Ah! That near hmmm?

    Reply

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