Are you a reader? Do you love to hold a real book in your hands?
Well if you are and do… I would hedge a bet that you have at least in passing thought about how great it would be to own a bookshop – so I talked to Becky, one of our very own old and boldies who has done just t
hat! For more info on bookshop ownership have a read of our interview…What made you want to own a bookshop?
I have always loved books and reading but especially second hand books. These have stood the test of time. An old book, like old clothes, puts you in touch with the past, readers, writers and also the owners. Their names on the inside covers, their hands on the pages. And of course the book itself as an object is interesting. Most people do buy books for their looks, they like the object, the cover, especially if it has a dust wrapper, the paper, the title and the illustrations. Books from before 1960 have a period feel. You can tell the era they are from in the same way a building, print or painting tells you. The preoccupations of people are timeless, so a good novel is as relevant today as it was when it was written 30 or 200 years ago. It will be about the internal life and its struggle for peace and happiness rubbing up against the external, other people, work, and the environment. Then buying and selling anything is exciting. You are always looking for the good deal I am afraid, but then you have to be honest and fair as well, it is a fine art.
Do you get the chance to do much reading at work?
I read a lot, I put short reviews of the books I have read on the Bookshop Website. But personally I don't read in the shop. I read in the evenings or on train journeys. Owning the bookshop has reactivated my interest in reading. I vary my reading as much as I can. But I don't waste time on poor books, if the book is bad I put it down. Bad books are ones written for profit. The author has chosen themes and characters they think will appeal and sell, not themes that have developed from the author's interests and preoccupations and therefore have a truth.
What have been the most rewarding aspects of having a bookshop?
I like the books, I think that is the most interesting part. The customers are ok, friendly and polite but you wouldn't open a bookshop for them. You never know what books are going to appear in the box brought in, each one (excuse the cliche) has a story to tell.Are there busy/non busy seasons?
The bookshop is never busy. Such a concept just isn't feasible. Having said that, on a Saturday you will get more people on than other days, but there will still be hours with no-one. Usually more sales in the afternoon than the morning, but you really can’t say. Dealers are the best customers and they can come at any time.You are an archaeologist. Does this colour the types of books that you stock in the shop?
I sell everything in the shop, including books I would never read myself, these tend to be 'men's' books, railways, cars, wireless, occult, science fictions, and first editions. I only really read novels. I can recognise good archaeology books of course, the ones that stand the test of time (very few of these), but what I sell is governed by what comes in. I try not to buy books that won’t sell, probably 90% of books won’t sell, these end up in charity shops.
Can you give me a definite ´no-no´ and a ´yes-yes´ for running a bookshop?
Don’t spend too much on buying books, second hand books are very cheap, you will never get your money back. Don’t buy books that won’t sell. You will probably know what sells because they are books you would like yourself. Dirty falling-to-bits books won’t sell, whatever the subject.In this age of kindle readers and online information access is there still a role for a bookshop? How does this affect trade?
Kindle owners primarily read novels. These only sell for £2 in the shop, so no loss. On-line information enormously affects the book trade. You will never sell encyclopaedias and probably not dictionaries. But textbooks with illustrations, maps, good basic quality information will sell, if it isn't dated. There is huge competition. Charity shops mainly, and then just about everyone sells books, all shops, look around and you will see this is true. The main thing though is that most people don't read. They watch telly, NetFlicks or look on their mobiles. Very few people read at all. Nevertheless, with 60m + people in the UK, there are always some who will like something, even books.Do you need a qualification to operate a bookshop in the UK? What skills or know-how would you recommend someone acquire?
No qualifications needed. You just need to know what will sell, which you probably know anyway.How does one get started if you wanted to open a bookshop? Would you recommend buying an existing one?
You need a market of people who buy books. So, if I was starting from scratch, which you could easily do, I would choose a university town of more than 20,000 people, so there are some academics who are usually readers. Make sure the shop you buy is classified small, so you don't pay business rates. Buy your shop, don't rent it. That way you are investing, not paying out. Make sure your shop has weight bearing floors. Put in bookshelves. One of the irritations with modern books is they are too big, so remember that with your shelves. Get your stock - buy from house clearances or put a note on the door you are buying books. Don't buy books that won’t sell (see above). Don't invest in advertising, tills, or anything oriented to business. Make the shop bookish and attractive. You will have to have the internet. Do all this and you will make a living.Thank you very much Becky for your really helpful insights into running a bookshop – you might have inspired someone to give it a go!
If you would like to visit Becky´s bookshop online you can find it on: www.themalvernbookshop.co.uk