Byte the Book Tackles the Big Questions at London Event

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

Re-posted here with permission from Justine Solomons. See the original post, with pictures, here. The piece was written by author Jay Merill. 

The following describes what was discussed at a Byte the Book event in London and has been edited very lightly for style: 

Host: Justine Solomons; Chair Sam Missingham; Panel: Jon Woolcott (Buying and Marketing Director at Stanfords Map and Travel Specialists Bookshop); Julia Kingsford (Business Development & Consumer Insight Consultant at ValoBox); and Simon Edwards (Director of The Little Ripon Bookshop and Consultant at BIC). Our sponsor on this occasion was The Great British Bookshop.

This proved to be another highly popular evening with a great turnout. Sam began by examining the cause of the decline in indie bookshops, as reported by the Booksellers Association. Julia then spoke about the role of Amazon, pointing out that though livelihoods had been destroyed by the demise of the traditional bookshop, there was a positive gain in Amazon’s ability to bring books to all. Simon said customers continued to be appreciative of the personal service good bookshops were able to offer and Jon spoke about the benefit to specialist customers of being able to engage with bookshops specific to their requirements. Sam then talked about the huge success Foyles was enjoying and felt this amply demonstrated the desire for a good bookshop was still current at the present time. Julia, (formerly head of marketing at Foyles) felt it was important for bookshops to find ways of promoting book reading to the non-reading element of the public.

A discussion followed about the practice of ‘Showrooming’ in which people browse in shops but buy online. The panel had a mixed response with Jon pointing out that if a customer bought from Stanfords online it was still a sale for the shop itself. And with regard to Amazon, although they unquestionably dominated the market Simon pointed out that initially they had endured heavy losses. Sam then questioned whether it had been wise for Waterstones to deal with Amazon. Jon maintained they had no choice as it was necessary to be able to sell Kindle in shops.

It was generally felt by the panel that the real issues in bookselling were the questions about how the market could be broadened to include the non book buying sector. Julia felt that Sainsbury’s and Tesco’s entering the market as booksellers was important in that it would bring books into more lives. Sam then spoke about the direction bookselling might take and wondered how the landscape would look in say, ten years’ time. Simon was optimistic that there would still be a good demand, especially for very beautiful books and people would continue to enjoy seeing what was on offer in bookshops. Julia hoped that future trends would include finding new ways to disseminate brilliant content into as many new hands as possible as it was invaluable to create more readers of high quality material. Jon wondered whether the book trade was at a turning point. But in sum he too felt that overall there would not be a dramatic decline in the sphere.

A number of questions were raised from the floor, covering such topics as the position of non-fiction in future markets and also how works of translation were likely to fare. Simon said these were presently better catered for than ever before. A member of the audience asked whether publishers listened to booksellers sufficiently and Jon felt that there could be room for improvement here. Future marketing methods were also discussed, prompted by further questions from the audience, and a number of Interesting ideas were put forward concerning experiments with ‘bundling’ and other tenable book selling strategies. Much more needed to be thought about on the subject of format, and how hardback, paperback and E book might work together more cohesively at some future point. Julia said that the public wants easy access to what is available and it was hoped that future marketing methods would make this increasingly possible to achieve.

This was an engaging event in which the audience as well as the panel, were clearly highly enthused, and participated fully in the discussions which occurred. All in all this created a lively and energetic ambience which made for the excellent and positive networking which then took place.

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