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Books Are My Bag – part 2

uczcbsv23 February 2014

As promised, here is the second winning blog of the Books Are My Bag blog competition. This blog is written by Lillienne Zen.

Bookmark This

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

Books Are My Bag – part 1

uczcbsv16 February 2014

At the beginning of this academic year, all of the MA Publishing students went out for a day to help promote the Books Are My Bag campaign. We visited several bookshops, talked to the bookshop owners, and interviewed the customers. Afterwards, a blog competition was organised: everyone had to write a blog about the campaign and the winners would receive some free books! In the coming weeks we will post one of the six winning blogs here every Sunday, starting today with the blog written by Josh Poole.

Travelling to Stoke-Newington Bookshop on the bus and armed with bags from ‘Books Are My Bag’, I remarked to the other UCL Publishing students the irony that it was a love of books – indeed a love of bookshops – that drew us to Publishing, yet our eventual employment in the industry would place us in positions to oversee the deterioration, perhaps even the extinction of the bookshop all together. It is not long before a Publishing student understands that profit speaks louder than sentiment; louder than the uneconomical preservation of the industry’s cultural flagships. Online retailers, most notably Amazon (already responsible for over half of book sales), and online communities will continue to quash bookshop profitability and tempt the consumer with cheaper sales.

Do the Publishers have the means – or more to the point – the will by which to halt the progression of the digital age, especially when disintermediation threatens the role of the Publishers themselves? I had decided, by the time I reached Stoke-Newington, that as a potential publisher I would be ushered along by Amazon and active in the online world just as publishing companies are, and that bookshops would be the real victims in it all.

Stoke-Newington Bookshop – a popular destination for young children and parents

Still the owner of the bookshop – an articulate and friendly lady – assured us that ‘The Books Are My Bag’ campaign was having a hugely positive effect, with sales increasing by 50%. The shop was well-organised by genre, with shop recommendations on certain titles and half-price offers in the shop window highlighting an efficient business model. There were three of four customers in the store at any given time, around half actually purchasing books. One lady told me she came to the bookshop almost every day, always excited by what she might find, while another man claimed he had once met a fellow sci-fi fan in the very spot he was standing in, and that they had remained friends for over seven years, sharing recommendations on new instalments in the genre.

I was rejuvenated by what I experienced: the community togetherness of the bookshop seemed more solid than I had expected, and the buyer-seller relationship was a healthy one that only seemed to add to the experience of buying a book in person. Still, the cynical side of me could not help but conclude, on the bus home, that communities, recommendations, organisation, navigation and so on could all be recreated, and in many respects already is available, online. All of course at a cheaper price – something even the ‘Books Are My Bag’ campaign will struggle to contend with.

Written by Josh Poole

UCL Blog Post on The Bookseller

Nick P Canty25 January 2014

Molly Slight, a student on the UCL MA in Publishing programme has posted the first of what will be a series of monthly blog posts by UK publishing students on the website of the industry magazine, The Bookseller.

Molly wrote about S by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst and published by Canongate

No-one knows the future of publishing but as the blog says, the industry is resiliant and S is an excellent example of creativity and how print can co-exist with digital.  



What is your favourite cover of 2013?

uczcbsv9 January 2014


The New Year has begun.. Happy 2014 everyone!

It has been an exciting year in the publishing industry. Lots of exciting things have happened, and lots of beautiful books have been published. Speaking of beautiful books.. what was your favourite cover in 2013? Here are a few of our favourites!

The Circle - Dave Eggers   Quiet - Susan Cain   The Encyclopedia of Early Earth - A Graphic Novel by Isabel Greenberg

ALPSP Award for Contribution to Scholarly Publishing 2013

Ian G Evans17 September 2013

The Council of ALPSP was delighted to make this award to Anthony Watkinson in recognition of his support for and commitment to the interests of the scholarly publishing industry over many years. During his varied and eminent career across the breadth of the industry, he has worked in research, as a scholarly librarian, and held senior roles with major publishing houses. He has also been involved in teaching as a visiting professor at the City University and UCL. He is currently principal consultant for CIBER Research, director of the Charleston Conference and Fiesole Collection, a consultant to the Publishers Association, a course director with STM and still finds time to teach at UCL and Oxford Brookes University.