Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Words are cheap

Catching up on a few blogs recently there seems to be a general feeling that hardback books should be on their way out (see http://shamelesswords.blogspot.com/). Poor readers have to wait a whole year, it seems, before being able to read the books they had heard about because they really want them in paperback. What other industry, I tried to think, launches its products with the promise that a year later you’ll be able to get exactly the same thing, only cheaper? How bizarre. No wonder the whole issue of discounting has become such a ticklish subject. Perhaps what publishers should have been doing from the beginning is to reinforce in people’s minds that books are cheap, not expensive. For instance, a glossy magazine will set you back almost as much as a paperback. You’ll spend (probably) less time reading it and will think nothing of tossing it into the recycling once you’ve done. A paperback might be passed around several friends, it might stay on your own bookshelves for years, being regularly lent out, or re-read yourself. And should you wish to dispose of it, you would probably be able to get a small sum yourself in the second hand market, or pass it on for a charity to sell and raise cash. What else gives you such wonderful value for barely more than a fiver? When did the average price of a paperback last go up? And, if it did, one wonders, would people really stop buying them? Do people only buy books because they are in a 3 for 2 offer? Customers who shop only on price are notoriously fickle and will desert you as soon as the price becomes cheaper down the road, so you have to do something right to make sure your customers are coming to you for reasons that will bring loyalty. And back to the subject of hardbacks. Hardbacks often retail around £12.99. This is about the same price as a DVD, barely more than a CD. Would people really not buy one for a whole year on the basis of price? I don’t really know, but I daresay we shall be finding out a lot more about this when we start trying to sell them and make a living out of it. category tags: mbbookshop

Monday, March 27, 2006

What we hope to achieve

Hi – I’m Mark, the other half of Mostly Books. What I hope to achieve with this blog is:
  • Try to understand what makes a successful bookshop, and;
  • Share with others what we learn

It’s worth making the point that both Nicki and I have almost no retail experience, so trying to open a small, independent bookshop in this day and age (furious competition, high street in decline, long-hours, competition with Amazon, eBay, Borders, AbeBooks, etc.) might seem a tad foolhardy. So we’re going to need all the help we can get. By trying to share how we’re doing I’m hoping that others may share some ideas of where we might be going wrong. This post came from an idea whilst attending the Oxford Literary Festival (currently running in, er, Oxford). I was listening to Melvyn Bragg talking about his new book “12 books that changed the world”. This got me thinking – if I were to ask them (and assuming they could grasp the concept of blogging) what would some of history’s greatest writers have to say on how to succeed in starting a bookshop. So – in full-on “standing on the shoulders of giants” mode – here goes. Any venture must start with belief. A challenging goal must be backed by an almost religious faith that you will – eventually – succeed. Apparently St Augustine (in about 400AD) said “believe so that you may understand”. Belief precedes knowledge (which is why, I guess, people with bags of self confidence always seem to do so well when they are starting up a new venture?). So we need to “keep the faith”. We need to keep feeling that what we are doing is worth it, and that we will – eventually – succeed, despite all the problems that may come our way. OK – we’ve got our faith. Now we need some advice on how to “understand” what makes a successful bookshop. When asked how he had worked out the theories of gravity, Newton gave this profound answer: “by thinking on it continuously” (thanks to Melvyn for this bit). Apparently it took Newton 20 years, working 20-hour days, and by all accounts he was a bit of a loner. We’re hoping that through this blog – with other people thinking along with us – we might understand a bit quicker than this (the bank will insist we pay the loan back in a slightly accelerated timeframe unfortunately). Next stop, Napoleon Hill. He studied the fundamentals of success for 20 years, and the result was “Think and Grow Rich”, one of the world’s biggest selling books on how to succeed. He reckoned that “thoughts are things” – and I take this to mean that once you start to “think” and visualise something, it begins to take on a life of its own. By my reckoning, the more people thinking about the success of our bookshop, the better our chance of success. Nicki and I now have some great pictures in our head of the wonderful experience our customers will have coming into our shop – so now it’s time to make them happen. And (despite my best efforts to find an alternative to this one) the final bit of advice seems to be: get on with it. Steven Covey states “Action” as one of his 7 habits of highly effective people (“all is dust without it” apparently). Richard Bach (he of “Jonathon Livingstone Seagull” fame) wrote “You are never given a wish without also being given the power to make it come true. You may have to work for it, however." There are plenty of things that still need doing before our self-imposed Summer opening date – so we’d best get cracking…

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Two operations and a wedding Who’d have thought that the first obstacles to our bookshop would be hospitalisation and a wedding? Makes you feel that someone might be trying to tell you something . . . There was the unexpected trip to the rainforest . . . One of the partners in the bookshop idea (ie husband Mark) makes his crust trying to develop a system that will prevent illegal logging of timber. Someone’s unexpected illness and he’s off on an impromptu trip to the jungle, thinking less of the sort of wood you get between two hard covers and more of the type still with very wet leaves attached. And just before we were about to breathe a sigh of relief at his escaping unscathed, having dodged the mudslide, mosquitoes and malaria, he’s spirited off to an operating theatre near you to have his appendix out. The wedding wasn’t ours either and is entirely another story. Back on track soon. Hopefully.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Time to get cosies out of the closet (one in an occasional series of bookrants) I don’t know where the label ‘cosies’ came from, but is it all part of a conspiracy to say if you like crime fiction you want another serial killer (probably preying on women and children), can’t get enough of forensics, adore police procedurals in all their authentic, often dull, grisly detail and murders that teeter into territory that used to be the province of horror stories? I think it’s high time for cosies to sneak out of the closet and murmur discreetly that (ahem) a genteel murder mystery is sometimes just the ticket. Disparagers of cosies (and there are many) sniff at the fact that the murders take place mostly among the middle classes, present little authentic detail, with elderly amateur sleuths careering over the Cotswold and seaside villages in between drinking cups of tea and knitting tea cosies for their china teapots. All right, most cosies do involve female amateur sleuths who have a preference for bracing country or sea walks and find the concept of a cappuccino a trifle louche. But just occasionally, on a cold winter evening, with just the hint of a sniffle allowing you to put your slippers on and curl up with a hot toddy, am I the only one who secretly uncurls their favourite Simon Brett or MC Beaton? Cosies are the PG Wodehouse of the crime fiction world, a place of fantasy where mistaken identities, aunts who have long outlived their usefulness, sinister vicars lurk and afternoon tea parties abound where the gossip is more malicious than the House of Commons. Is this really so awful? Why is it so difficult to stand up and admit that reading these can be jolly good fun? And why is it that no good, central website exists where anonymous whodunit fans can swap notes on whether Amelia Peabody outranks Sheila Malory? I always thought lovers of historical romance had to get together under the guise of doing ballroom dancing classes to discuss whether Rochester was more romantic than Darcy. But they have a brilliant website http://historicalromanceuk.blogspot.com/ where people post quite openly and, apparently, under their own names. Considering Rosemary and Thyme was given a Christmas special and Midsomer Murders’ plots are unashamedly barking mad, can cosy crime really be consigned to Sunday night television? Does no-one actually read them any more? Or am I missing something? Next: There are worse crimes than liking Agatha Christie category tags: mbwhodunnits

Saturday, March 04, 2006

I think we might be on the verge of opening a bookshop. Complete excitement in our household. There's a long way to go yet, but after it being no more than a dream for a long time, there is a chance of it actually happening. We've found premises, about the right size, not too expensive, but not too far from the main drag to prevent anyone finding us, and with enough character to provide a good setting. Fingers crossed as we start negotiations on the lease in the next few weeks.
What is it about books? Many people read them. Many people buy them, but making money selling them is at best a pretty challenging task. A glance at a recent Britblog page, books are the third most popular of members’ interests and writing is sixth. You’d think selling the things would be a doddle. But perhaps the main problem is that probably out of all those who read regularly, none would agree absolutely about favourite authors. Some of the top names – yes. And even someone you think has the same tastes as you can suddenly hit a wrong note and you’re left thinking What did she see in that? Book reading is probably even more of a matter of personal taste than music. Even re-reading the same book twice and you may get more out of it, you may find it fails to chime in that way that made you feel the author was speaking directly to you. And for all the talk about what makes a good book, page turners like Jeffrey Archer and Dan Brown still outsell books that have got far more to say and say it better. Is it possible in a small bookshop to have a stock that still takes the serious browsers by surprise, yet still caters for those who want to drop in, buy the latest Ian Rankin and won’t call again for another year?