After a decade's absence, the London Book Fair returned last week to the Olympia exhibition center, into space that featured two large halls with soaring iron-and-glass ceilings, a marked difference from the bunker-like Earls Court Exhibition Centre, which has been closed permanently. Exhibitors on the main floors were bathed in sunlight most of the fair last week, and the balconies had amazing views.
The first morning, many fair-goers puzzled over the layout but soon got their bearings. Still, for the rest of the fair, some continued to wonder about one of the four color-coded staircases that led from the main floors of the Olympia's Grand Hall and National Hall to the mezzanines. As Mike Shatzkin of Idea Logical put it: "It's the biggest controversy of the show, and the media isn't reporting it!" The problem: most of the Pink Staircase was actually purple. A few people held up foot traffic pondering the color scheme, but otherwise the hue and cry had a negligible effect.
During a session at the fair, the U.K.'s Booksellers Association discussed plans for two upcoming campaigns: Independent Bookshop Week and Books Are My Bag.
Independent Bookshop Week has undergone both a name change and a scheduling change. Formerly called Independent Booksellers Week, the campaign's name was changed to put the focus squarely on high street bookstores, and this year it will take place from June 20-27, to guarantee that Scottish and Irish schools are in term. There will be a week's worth of activities and promotions, including the announcement of the IBW Book Award winners, National Reading Group Day and a Bookshop Crawl on June 27.
Jo James, the author and events coordinator for Books Are My Bag, said that last year, sales at shops that participated in the campaigned were typically up by at least 3% over shops that did not participate. The campaign's total Twitter reach, she added, was more than 75 million, and some 150 authors supported the campaign. This year's campaign will see much of the same, but with new merchandise, including a Books Are My Bag calendar and a Books Are My Bag mug, and a stronger focus on bookshop parties and in-store events. This campaign will launch on October 10.
"Integrating a strong non-book offer can help keep a bookstore alive," advised Abel Dos Santos, the non-book buyer at the Foyles flagship store on Charing Cross Road in London, during a session called Non-Book Products at the fair. "If you can get the offer right, non-book can play a huge role in supporting the overall success and profitability of a bookstore."
He pinpointed three core categories of non-book products that he felt all bookshops should carry year-round: gift items, including greeting cards, gift wrap and bags; stationery, including notebooks, journals, planners and pens; and plush toys, especially licensed ones. Other non-book categories, he said, are up to the buyer's discretion and can fluctuate throughout the year.
Perhaps the most important thing about selling non-book products, Dos Santos suggested, is getting displays right. "If you don't attract the eye, it won't sell," he said. "We want to take all the effort out of the customer looking at product and buying product: see it, pick it up, buy it."
Adam Hewson, the head of book buying for the Royal Horticultural Society, also offered some non-book advice during the same panel. If a bookseller is considering stocking a new type of non-book product, he or she should never do so tentatively. "If you're going to go down that road, you have to do it with authority," Hewson said. "You have to do it with pride. Don't be tempted to do it with one or two items and see how it goes. Be bold, be proud, tell people what you're doing. You could become the destination for greeting cards, art supplies or whatever else in your town."
Hewson also asked if booksellers could get rid of the term "non-book product," saying, "It's condescending. It automatically makes us think it's something that we don't really want to sell. We should be proud to sell things in our shop."
|David Kent, with Shelf Awareness publisher Jenn Risko.
The happiest person at the fair had to be David Kent, former president and CEO of HarperCollins Canada, who was making part of what he calls his "gratitude trip," which as he explains on his gratitude trip website, involves visiting "those teachers, mentors, writers, colleagues, and friends who, knowingly or not, have given me a life far richer and joyous than I would have ever dreamed, for one simple purpose: to say 'thank you.' "
Tanner and better rested than just about everyone else at the fair, David said was delighted to see and catch up with many friends. He sounded truly ambivalent about whether he would return to the business eventually, but we hope he does, if only to be sure to have one very cheerful veteran publisher around. --Alex Mutter and John Mutter