Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti...doh!

A few weeks ago, Dawsons - a large music shop in Abingdon High Street - sadly closed its doors. The shop used to be called Modern Music, and had an enviable reputation for its range of musical instruments and expertise in all matters musical. It was taken over by Dawsons - a chain based in Warrington - last year, and it's a great shame that it closed less than a year after taking over.

Anyway, some of our customers were quite upset at not being able to order music in the town. We discussed it with them, and we also had the opportunity to talk to a major music wholesaler at the recent Gardners Trade Show. After some consideration, we said - why don't we offer sheet music and music book ordering as a service?

I mean, the books all have ISBNs. Said wholesaler says they stock loads of them. Some are even available through our usual book wholesaler. How difficult can it be?

So, a few weeks ago, with a bit of a flurry, we announced the launch of our music ordering service. It also gave us a wonderful excuse to beef up our music section.



The response was hugely positive. Lots of people were very impressed that we decided to move into this area, and we started receiving our first orders.

Which is where the problems started.

Admittedly we were a bit speculative about the whole thing, and realised that there might be a bit of a learning curve (ho ho) and some jargon to learn. Well, I've learned a lot. For example, when someone asks for a title containing the words "flute with bass continuo", I now know that "bass continuo" isn't a musical instrument. That sort of thing.

But I hadn't appreciated just what a challenge getting hold of books would be. Of the first six orders, one was available through our music wholesaler. We discovered that we would have to set up additional accounts with another 3 wholesalers (which we did, albeit on a pro-forma basis - they always want about 6 trade references, and our existing suppliers get a teensy bit hacked off when you keep asking them to provide a reference). One title was so obscure, it is only available as a print-on-demand title from an obscure source in the US and (technically) qualifies as a Googlewhack when you search for it.

So, 6 books, 5 seperate sources. As you can appreciate, these are hardly huge volumes we're putting through each of them. And it's a bit of a shock when you start seeing terms and conditions like "free postage only for orders above £2,500" (it's £100 for our usual wholesalers). So it started to dawn on us that our service was going to be slightly less appealing to customers if they were going to have to pay the full whack of delivery charge for just one of little Johnny's flute books.

But it got worse. We tried to order a piano grade book set by the UK's largest examination board (this is a reasonable popular title). The response we got was "we don't sell that book to trade anymore". I'm sorry? But how on earth can we get it then?

Anyway, with our first few orders fulfilled, and only two customers severely hacked off with the delay (to whom I have already offered our sincerest apologies) we are now committed to cracking the music wholesaler 'code'. Our strategy now will be to talk directly to some of the music teachers in Abingdon (some of whom have already come into the shop) and try to anticipate which books are likely to be in demand in the future. And we're going to establish a service-level in terms of timescales for ordering, which should allow us to bulk up orders ourselves and absorb the delivery charges.

Other than that, I may just take up the piano myself.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Julie Hearn

On Saturday we welcomed local author Julie Hearn to Mostly Books for the first of two author signings for half-term week. This was the first time we've ever done a straight signing (as opposed to a meet-the-author or themed event) and - in the absence of any ticket sales to give me an idea of numbers - I was a bit nervous about whether anyone was going to turn up.

Abingdon should be very proud of Julie Hearn. She was born here, and returned after spells in Australia and Spain. And her books are amazing. I'm always pretty fulsome in my praise of writers who have come to the shop, but it's been a complete joy for Nicki and I to discover Julie's books, and we're very lucky that she lives on our doorstep.

No matter that the books are aimed at the teen market - it's the ideas that do it for me. Neal Stephenson is my ur-author, and although the style is obviously different, for me, Julie's books have that same heady mix of deeply engaging characters, resonant historical settings and powerful ideas - whether it's witchcraft, social justice or suffragettes.

One reviewer praised her skills at 'weaving together folklore and history' (in The Merrybegot), and another describes her writing thus: "She takes scraps from history and creates characters so vivacious that they walk right out of history, off the page and into life cursing, kicking, scabby and loving.". Spot on.

In the end I needn't have worried about numbers. We had enough to keep Julie signing for the period, but not so busy that she couldn't spend time talking to everyone who turned up. It was a delightful afternoon, and we're really pleased she was able to come to the shop.

Having spent the last few weeks poring over the somewhat meagre offering for girls this Christmas (and for teenage girls in particular), I'd definitely recommend giving her books: Hazel, Ivy, The Merrybegot and Follow Me Down - a try.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The beginning is half of everything

When we started this blog, back at the start of last year, we didn't even have a location for our bookshop, and we weren't quite sure what to expect (from the blog that is, although probably not from opening the shop either). A lot has happened since then - and the observant amongst you will (hopefully) have noticed some general 'sprucing up' of the blog in the last few days. A new title, updated links, that sort of thing. Whilst I hesitate to call it a relaunch, after a two month(ish) sabbatical, that's kind of what it is. The blog isn't the only thing to have been given a make-over. Mostly Books has a splonky new pavement outside courtesy of some incredibly noisy roadworks that have slowly moved up one side of Stert Street, and down the other. Ours seems to be the only shop where the pavement hasn't actually been widened, but no matter - the effect along the entire street is to make it a more pleasant (and safer) experience for shoppers, and we're hoping that this improves access to Stert Street from both ends of town. Inside, the shop is eagerly awaiting Christmas (the nature of retail, sadly) with the shelves and tables bulging with what we feel are some of the best books of the season. We've even bought a new table for the children's room to display them. And this year we are publishing our own Christmas Catalogue. It's a bit of an experiment, but everyone who works here has selected their pick of books, and we hope it gives an alternative selection to the standard "wholesaler fayre" which will be available everywhere in the next couple of months. We've had two author signing events in the last two days - and we've got some cracking events lined up between now and Christmas. You can find out more here. However, we have recently discovered that there is a new bookshop in the same situation as we were all those months ago, blogging and endeavouring to open as soon as they can sort out the premises. Tim West and Simon Key were made redundant when the Waterstones they worked in closed with 9 days notice. They decided to respond by opening their own bookshop. But, first things first, they started blogging about it. Now, these guys are hardly neophytes, but they will need all the help they can get over the next few months. I therefore officially hand over the "new bookshop" staff of blog power to Tim and Simon. Crockatt & Powell had it before us, and it has served them and us well. Look after it guys. And the very best of luck with shop. Let us know if we can help out in any way possible.