As promised, here is the second winning blog of the Books Are My Bag blog competition. This blog is written by Lillienne Zen.
Socialist books, anti-Tory mugs and sherbet Lenin soap in the red-framed windows. Event posters next to the table of second-hand books for £1. The Bookmarks bookshop at 1 Bloomsbury Street calls itself a socialist bookshop—and lives up to it.
Two classmates and I were visiting Bookmarks as part of the Books Are My Bag campaign. Our MA Publishing programme at UCL had assigned a day for all of us to visit participating bookshops.
AKA: Best Field Trip Ever.
This visit was the first time I really considered about how bookshops shape themselves. Everything in Bookmarks is carefully placed, from the Malcolm X posters and the racks of political events and newspapers by the door to the metal signage with engraved red letters marking out available topics: Marxism, politics, economics, history, trade unions…
Even the children’s section had balloons and red star lights.
The bookshop was quiet—unsurprising, given that it was 11 am on Friday. The only two customers we talked to were regulars who’d taken time to be there… so when we asked them about their book-buying preferences, their answers were fairly predictable:
Yes, they support physical bookshops. Yes, they prefer to buy physical books over e-books (one elaborated that he can’t lend e-books but can p-books). They do, however, use Amazon on occasion—it’s really so convenient sometimes. But they try to buy from physical bookshops as much as possible.
I wondered why we had these questions on our assignment. Do we really expect anyone who doesn’t like physical books to be in a bookshop?
Not for the first time, I wondered how effective the Books Are My Bag campaign really is—and who it’s targeting.
Arguably, the people who go to bookshops are already the people who support bookshops. They don’t need to be convinced of the value of brick-and-mortar stores.
My brother, on the other hand, is as passionate about digital as I am about paper. He no longer sees the point of bookshops when Amazon provides the same product for cheaper and fully expects physical bookshops to disappear entirely.
My real question is: How do you get people like him who don’t care about bookshops to start going to and enjoying them again?
We asked Bookmarks’ bookseller some of our burning questions that accumulated through our observations: Who goes to Bookmarks? How much do they sell? How do they compete against Amazon?
Answers were heartening: demographics range from students to workers; only 2% of their sales are made of e-books with maybe 10-15% merchandise, while the rest of sales are books. They make huge efforts to liaise with relevant events, film screenings and trade meetings and to provide relevant books. Such efforts pay off: their mailing list is over 1000 subscribers, they have 4000-plus Twitter followers and almost 2000 on Facebook.
They are more than a specialist bookshop—they are a community. Perhaps that’s the clue to getting my brother back through the doors.
Written by Lillienne Zen