Why the Future Can Still Be Bright for High Street Book Retailers

UK high street book retailers have found an innovative new way to fight back against online sellers and ebooks, according to an article in the Independent this weekend.

UK high street book retailers have found an innovative new way to fight back against online sellers and ebooks, according to an article in the Independent this weekend.

Waterstones has signed an exclusive deal that sees in-store customers who buy Peaches, the new Joanne Harris paperback for Monsieur le Curé, also receiving an extra chapter not included in copies sold elsewhere.

Harris says the exclusive chapter can be read either as an epilogue or as "the prologue to an as-yet-unwritten story". Waterstones is hopeful that the extra material will encourage fans to shun online retailers in favour of a visit to the high street.

Waterstones isn't the only bookstore using innovative marketing tactics to compete in the new landscape. Foyles recently sold in-store copies of Alexander McCall Smith's novel Trains and Lovers with a small booklet containing an extra short story by the author.

And independent book retailers are getting in on the act too. Mr B's Emporium of Reading Delights in Bath, twice recent winner of the Independent Bookshop of the Year Award, has also worked with publishers to secure exclusive extras.

It's encouraging to hear of book sellers adapting like this, and its also great to see that independent retailers are able to keep up too. 73 independent bookshops closed in 2012, and as ebook sales doubled to £261m, physical book sales fell from £1.59bn in 2011 to £1.51bn in 2012.

Philip Stone, who monitors sales for The Bookseller, said "ridiculously cheap" ebooks are contributing to the decline in money spent on books, commenting that customers may come to believe that books, like music, have "almost no value".

Because they have higher overheads,it can be extremely difficult for bricks and mortar sellers to compete price wise with their online counterparts, however they also have advantages over them. Tom Tivnan, features editor at The Bookseller says "The place to discover a new book is not on Amazon. It is browsing through a bookshop or a library. Physical bookshops have to survive. Authors and publishers really want to keep bookshops and libraries open. Particularly mid-rank authors, lower down than Joanne Harris or Ian Rankin".

With authors and publishers onside, I believe there is still be a bright future ahead for book retailers if they think more about what they can offer customers, rather than fixating on price. For example, events such as book signings,author Q&As and poetry readings are great ways to encourage buyers back into the high street and can transform the humble bookshop into a vibrant community hub.

There is also another ray of hope, following the Bookshop Association's recent announcement that there were no reported children's bookshop closures in 2012, a year that saw more opening, including Brentwood's Chicken and Frog and Crouch End's Pickled Pepper. The organisation said such stores were "breathing new life into their high streets".

Whilst some closures are inevitable, I believe there will be a future for years to come for high street bookstores that can adapt. Ebooks cannot compete with the satisfaction gained from seeing physical copies of your favourite books lined up side-by-side on your livingroom bookshelf.


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