I met a woman who’s been selling books for thirty-two years on a market stall. I actually wanted to pick her brains because I’ve been thinking of running the same kind of business.
To set the scene: the town is small and has three large supermarkets – two of which open for 24 hours. There are two small branches of national bookshops: Waterstones and WH Smith. All these are within walking distance of each other. The town has a college but the county’s university has closed its site and moved to a different location.
At one end of the high street is an indoor market. This end of the town is less busy than the other, a few shop units are empty, and not many people use the market.
The bookseller in the indoor market relies on her regular customers but also on buying books back from them. So if she sells a book for £1, she will buy it back for 50p as long as the customer buys another book from her stall.
Her corner stall is small, I’d say about five ft. sq. but only two sides can be used, and there are a few shelves. The rent is £96 / week excluding electricity. (How many books would she need to sell just to meet costs?)
In her opinion the supermarkets are (still?) the ones causing the problems: as a one-stop shop for food, clothes, phones, and everything else under the sun including books. People just put everything in their shopping trolleys and don’t think about the price.
The other problem is the indoor market itself; people who do go in see the empty units and don’t go back again. I rarely go in.
In addition to this, the bookseller used to sell academic books but found it was too expensive. Each year editions changed their content by just a few pages and she couldn’t understand why publishers didn’t print those altered and simply add them to the book’s original print-run. (I actually thought they did that). I do know that in at least one European country, universities insist that the students buy new books every year even when the content is exactly the same. Collusion, anyone?
I suppose I could make a go of selling books, but I think I should also have a Plan B.
(“Bookshops…accounted for 38% (by value) of purchases, equal to 2013, and only 1% down on 2012. Internet-only retailers increased their market share by value to 46%, over 44% in 2013 and 41% in 2012, but this is at the expense of supermarkets, as opposed to bookshops. Supermarkets’ share has dropped from 10% in 2012 to 7% in 2014. Interestingly, bookshops also increased their share of ebook sales by value, up 3% on 2013 to 6%.” Roger Tagholm’s article in Publishing Perspectives (former Deputy Editor of Publishing News and author of Walking Literary London (New Holland) and Poems NOT on the Underground(Windrush Press):