Closing session discusses strategies for making a success of diversification and highlights merits of print-on-demand for booksellers
Sharjah, May 18, 2022
The magnetic pull of bookselling, the power of collaborations, and the increasingly diversified business models that are now reshaping the industry, were at the heart of the closing sessions of the inaugural International Booksellers Conference which concluded at the headquarters of the Sharjah Book Authority (SBA).
Organised by SBA on the sidelines of the ongoing 13th Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival (SCRF), passionate and innovative booksellers utilised the first-of-its-kind platform to share how diversification into new and non-book verticals, collaborations with allied stakeholders, and upskilling opportunities are building up resilience and bringing about transformational changes in the industry.
At the concluding panel session titled, ‘New Business Models’, hostel by Emma House, an international publishing consultant in the UK, three booksellers discussed how reinventing traditional business models has enabled them to stay relevant in the ever-changing market landscape.
Looking ahead to diversified verticals
Tracing the gradual evolution of Estonia’s Apollo Bookstores from a single store in 2000 to the largest bookstore chain in the country within a decade, Agne Ahi, Product Manager for foreign language books, described how the realisation that “growth cannot be maintained only by selling books” led to the opening of Apollo Cinema in 2014, followed by the Apollo Entertainment Complex in 2016 that houses bowling alleys, juice bars and cafes.
“Most recently, after analysing online sales during the Covid-19 lockdown period, we began to diversify our product offerings with a wide selection of ecofriendly products and handmade stationery, book merchandise, and more,” she said.
Premieres of book to screen adaptations offered an opportunity to display and sell books at the cinema, she added. “Special offers for Apollo Club members further improved customer loyalty across all verticals while the spacious theatre also began to host larger audiences for book signings and other interactive book-related events.”
Changing lives, one book at a time
The extraordinary story of India’s Walking Book Fairs served as a moving testament to the power that booksellers have in changing people’s lives. Akshaya Rautaray, co-founder of the travelling bookstore and library, narrated how Walking Book Fairs, founded in 2014 in a small town on the country’s East Coast, has since travelled 35,000 kms across 20 Indian states taking books to people, and hosted author interactions and reading sessions.
He said: “For children who have never seen books, let alone can afford to buy one, the joy of holding a book and leafing through its colourful pages for the first time is an experience that just cannot be described. As booksellers, we may not be able to change the circumstances they are in, but we can fight back with something stronger – through books and knowledge.”
Walking Book Fairs also recently launched the first electric bookmobile – Book-Tuk and has also ventured into independent publishing with the launch of100 Poems are Not Enough and Room No. 312 and other stories. He explained: “The latter, launched last year, was made possible only because of our collaboration with other booksellers, publishers, and authors – it is available for sale only in bookshops and not on any online platform.”
Power of Collaboration
Keith Thong, Group MD of University Book Store, Malaysia, and the President of the Malaysian Booksellers Association, lauded the efforts of the Sharjah Book Authority in hosting the first International Booksellers Conference and bringing together booksellers on a common platform, which, he said, “will bring magnificent returns and dividends”.
Highlighting why all support must be extended to ensure bookshops stay open, he said, “When a bookshop closes, education and learning will cease, leading to gaps in knowledge and information.”
Keith Thong also reiterated the power of collaboration in improving literacy and opening opportunities for wider segments of society, by illustrating the success of Reading Seeds 3.0, an initiative that stems from a collaboration between child psychologists, edtech companies, and publishers, amongst others, and is aimed at instilling positive reading habits during a child’s early developmental stages.
Learning and teaching bookselling
The debut edition of the International Booksellers Conference concluded with a keynote session where Nana Lohrengel, General Secretary of the Umberto and Elisabetta Mauri Foundation, Italy, discussed how the Foundation’s School for Booksellers is imbuing professionalism and knowledge in the book industry by training new generations of booksellers in all aspects of distribution, marketing and promotion.
The courses offered at the School for Booksellers, founded in 1983, deals with topics that concern all aspects of bookstore work and the operational and managerial challenges encountered in day-to-day operations, she added.