Monday, 15 February 2016

Bookshops encouraging children’s reading, the bookseller’s moral responsibility or just common sense.

About two years ago I expanded the children’s book section in my bookshop from seven bookcases to ten which is about 10% of the overall bookshop of about 100 bookcases, last year children’s books accounted for 6% of book sales in the shop in money.

This may sound like some sort of accountant’s gibberish to most people but the town centre bookshops I have opened over the years (Welwyn bookshop in Welwyn Garden City, Hitchin Bookshop in Hitchin and now Michaels bookshop in Ramsgate) have always been weighted towards children’s books. 

By this I mean more space in the bookshop than an accountant would advise based on the value of children’s books.

Back in the 1980s when independent bookshops in the UK started to close, partly because of the ending of The Net Book Agreement and partly because of the expansion of retail book chains in the UK, I had a bit of a rethink about children’s books.

For the most part now you have three types of children’s book sections in bookshops. You have the ones in the big chain bookshops (mainly Waterstones) these are very good, but the snag is that the children who would most benefit from them can’t usually afford the books. You have the ones where it is fairly obvious that the price and marketing for a cheap present are at the forefront, these are not so good. You have the ones in the better secondhand bookshops which are collectable children’s books and one again children can’t afford the books.

What I set out to do was by a mixture of sourcing secondhand, from bankruptcies and remainder lists to have a fairly good children’s book section where the children and in the case of the less well off their parents could afford to buy the books in the children’s book section.

A factor in this meant that the children’s books would have to be cheaper, I aim for an average price of about £1, but certainly I think the books in the children’s book section are averagely less than half the price of the books in the rest of the bookshop.

Of course this means that in terms of the number of books sold from the bookcases in the children’s book section of my bookshop, it is now doing as well as the rest of the bookshop.

This is a first for any of the bookshops that I have been involved with and I think a considerable achievement, the best we ever managed in the past was Stevenage Bookshop before it closed in the early 1990s where the children’s section took up about 10% of the bookshop and generated about 3% of the sales.

Many thanks to my younger customers and their parents for the support during last year. The pictures are of the ten bookcases in the children’s section the photos were taken today and the sections are in a bit of a mess as it’s a school holiday this week.  

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