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Foyles Visit: “The joy of a good bookshop is discovery” (Bill Samuel)

By Samantha J Rayner, on 9 January 2013

Last night saw us crossing town to visit Foyles, and hear Bill Samuel speak about the bookshop’s past, present and future. An entertaining speaker, Bill gave us a verbal tour of some of the bookshop’s historical highlights:  for instance, that Christina Foyle used copies of Mein Kampfinstead of sandbags to help bomb-proof the flat roof of the shop during the Second World War, and that she wrote to Hitler to suggest that if he was burning books, he might like to send them to Foyles instead!  He was candid about life in a family business, and emphasised that trial and error was an integral part of learning what makes for success.  Foyles is not just a bookshop – they have tried all sorts of enterprises to generate more revenue:  sheet music, musical instruments, literary lunches, book clubs, film production and even aeroplanes!  “The book trade has always been in turmoil,” Bill said.  There is nothing new about the current arguments for the future of the book – these have been going on for centuries.  What the book trade seems to be extremely good at, and what Foyles exemplifies, is responding to the need to constantly innovate to refresh offerings and exploit readers’ appetite for all things book-(and culture) related.  In the 1990s Foyles seemed to be dying on its feet, but now it is a successful iconic destination for book-lovers, and looks set to take on the future with an assured optimism.

Outside the shop at the moment are giant hoardings, with a cartoon representation of the history of the shop. These images are amazing, and worth a trip to view (see http://www.johnmiers.com/Foylescomic/).

Foyles are about to relocate to the Central St Martin’s School of Art site, which will enable them to almost double square footage, and they are using this opportunity to completely redesign the layout and presentation of their stock.  In conjunction with The Bookseller, they will be holding workshops in February, allowing readers and book trade people to discuss their ideas for how the bookshop of the future should look.  The response to this idea has been overwhelming, (for details see: http://www.thebookseller.com/blogs/future-bookshop.html) and it will be one to keep track of in coming weeks…