How is the Art of Selling Books Changing in 2014?

The art of selling books in 2014 is changing with an increased focus on the business of selling and driving customers. Rebecca Wojturska, a full-time MA 2013/14 publishing student at Anglia Ruskin University spent the early months of her study working part-time in the John Smiths bookshop on campus and gained a valuable insight into the trade.

For all the worry in the publishing industry about the future of the bookshop, there is still that ‘hip’ image of the bookseller. Someone who doesn’t worry about the future of the stores because they know people will still appreciate the all-consuming smell of freshly-bound paper, or the opportunity of flicking through a book, or avidly chatting with customers about the latest bestseller, or discussing which academic monograph is truly forward-thinking…

Believe me, I thought this when I first became a retail assist in a bookstore, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Does working as a retail assistant allow you the title of ‘bookseller’? What does it actually mean to sell books?

Selling Books Is Business First

The bookshop is increasingly becoming business orientated with more focus on strategy and less on customers. Or to put it more appropriately, the customer has become the strategy.

Books no longer sell themselves in this space and bookshops are increasingly having to rely on ‘upselling’ techniques to get those much needed sales. This is where the retail assistant comes in. Gone is the image of browsing books and selling them for the sheer love of it, and instead comes the view that every customer is another sales opportunity. This is what the bookshop needs to survive.

Before a bookseller was someone who sold books; now a bookseller is someone who upsells books, recommending similar products that can be more expensive and converting a low-cost sale into one with a higher value. It seems vulgar to use the phrase ‘book upseller’ but increasingly that’s what bookshops are leaning towards as they make their way in the ever-increasing digital environment.

With regard to publishing, despite it seeming that retail assistants are ultimately book upsellers, it cannot be denied that working in a bookshop is a good way of grasping a basic knowledge of what goes on in the publishing industry.

You become the middleman between the business and consumer and even though you have to put up with every customer assuming your brain is a Google search bar, it’s rewarding in its essence – that is, in the need for product knowledge and industry awareness. Although working as a retail assistant in a bookshop doesn’t quite give you the fancy title of ‘bookseller’, it certainly provides crucial experience of customer service and marketing, which, as separate tools used in their own ways, ultimately keep publishing alive.

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Becky is currently a full-time student on the MA Publishing course; juggling being a Publishing Assistant at the Royal Society of Chemistry, a digital internship and campaigning as the University representative for the charity, BEAT which raises awareness into eating disorders.