Posted by Monica Cardenas on 7 November 2022, in Event reports, News
On 31 October, Byte The Book and Stationers’ Company members gathered at Stationers’ Hall in London to hear from a panel of experts on the future of bookselling. Bookselling in 2022: New Routes to Market, was chaired by Byte The Book founder Justine Solomons, and discussion centered on the role of the pandemic and online merchandising on the book market, including audio and e-books, bricks-and-mortar shopping trends and events.
In recent years the publishing industry has been in rude health, with the Publishers Association reporting UK consumer book sales in 2021 up 4% to £2.2 billion. While digital formats such as e-books and audiobooks have attracted consumers and column inches, the print book format has been remarkably resilient compared to other forms of physical media. But the way that readers find and purchase those books is changing, with the advent of new independent online retailers, subscription boxes, and direct to consumer sales by media outlets and publishers.
The discussion began with an acknowledgement of changed purchasing habits in the wake of the pandemic and lockdown measures that forced people to abandon in-person shopping for many months. The panelists also noted that this change in behavior also made shoppers realise the importance of their communities and of supporting businesses they care about. According to Nicole Vanderbilt, UK Managing Director for Bookshop.org, that included independent book shops. Bookshop.org is an online book shopping platform that sells books from independent book shops around the country. It also has a US platform.
When businesses began to reopen, James Albrecht, Director of Fane Productions and LoveMyRead noted that “people are hungry for in-person events” but that Fane maintains a “discretionary accessibility” to continuing catering for those who prefer or require online participation.
When it comes to e-books and audiobooks, Darin Brockman, CEO and founder of Firsty Group and D2C platform Glassboxx pointed out that “there’s been a huge mistrust with the big retailers.” Instead, it’s now possible to purchase directly from the publisher, and Firsty has sold books in 140 countries.
“We were the winners of COVID,” said Sara Montgomery, founder and director of Monwell Ltd. While it’s hard running a small business when you’re competing with Amazon, she said “our sales more than doubled. We saw so many people much more comfortable buying online, and also reading the news and coming to us to buy what was recommended.”
All of the panelists noted that online shopping can go well beyond what Amazon offers. “We help bookshops expand their reach,” said Vanderbilt. But Bookshop.org also has an advantage over brick-and-mortar shops: she noted that Sunday night is the most active time on their website. While it’s not possible to copy the experience of going into a bookshop, there are user-curated lists on Bookshop.org. Monwell offers a phone service, allowing people to call and chat with a bookseller to place their order.
Albrecht recognises the value of curated lists, as well. The personal touch they deliver is appealing to buyers shopping online. Stanley Tucci’s guest curated box on LoveMyRead was very popular. At the same time, 82% of Fane’s live events occur outside of London, leaving great potential for reaching audiences online. Already one of the company’s YouTube shorts has had 3.6 million views.
Those kinds of discovery practices have evolved but are largely rooted in the same habits. Montgomery notes that people still go to their trusted newspaper and reviewers for reading suggestions. “It’s not so much how people discover books, but how they access content in the first place,” she said. The ability to link directly to a book for sale from a newspaper review has streamlined this process.
Book to screen, such as Sally Rooney’s Normal People and Bridgerton, has also bridged sales, according to Brockman. Similarly, audio offers a different kind of access to a book and add to the experience. Book subscription boxes are appealing to readers, but have proven tricky to produce in an efficient manner – something the panelists are still investigating.
While Amazon alternatives like Bookshop.org and Monwell can’t always compete on price, they offer something different. “We are an ethical alternative to Amazon,” said Vanderbilt. “We offer carbon neutral deliveries and certify as a B Corporation. We aren’t competing with Amazon on price. You come to us and know that your money is going to indy bookshops.”
“We can’t compete on price all the time,” said Montgomery. “But in some instances we can [be price-competitive] for really high-brow books that won’t be discounted on Amazon.”
In the same vein as ethics, the panel discussed the value of the print industry. While it’s never worthwhile to print more books than are needed, the panelists agreed that print is still alive and kicking. The circular economy is giving books a new life.
The Stationers Hall is home to The Stationers' Company who are the livery hall for the publishing industry and all communications industries in the City of London. The building has recently undergone a major restoration and is truly magnificent. They have a rich history dating back to 1557 and the birth of copyright in the UK. They have in their vaults, amongst other important historic artifacts, the copyrights on Shakespeare's plays.
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