As a very small, independent bookshop the success of our business relies on our skill as booksellers. If we tried to compete with WHSmiths over the road we would fail; most of the books on display there are heavily discounted mass-market fiction, or celebrity-endorsed publications like cookbooks, celebrity biographies and vloggers’ promotions. To thrive on the high street we need to know our books very well, and we do. We go out of our way to find books to encourage readers, to promote the work of writers and illustrators who we think are the most interesting and talented ones, to provide parents, teachers and school librarians with books that help them cater for all sorts of kids’ needs, both emotional and entertainment.
We also know our adult fiction shelves well enough to be able to support dozen of local book groups’ reading – these people want to be kept on their toes and to be challenged, the latest promo in WHSmiths or Sainbury’s really is not what they are looking for. When World Book Day comes around we buy (bookshops have to pay for the WBD books – they don’t just arrive free of charge) the selection of books chosen and then, basically, we give them away. It isn’t a huge amount of money to buy the books, in fact it costs us more as a business to exchange that World Book Day token for £1 off another book than it does to give away the chosen books for free. Nevertheless, generally speaking this does seem to bring people in to the shop during that period. It is difficult to tell if it is hugely effective as a support for high street bookshops, but that isn’t its main aim anyway. However, when we are confronted with a list of books that actually flies directly against everything we are trying to accomplish as a local indie shop, there seems little point in joining in. Generally speaking we don’t keep celebrity books in the shop, because our customers can walk 20 yards over the square and get them at less than half price in WHSmiths, or order them online for even less. These are not books, they are marketing exercises that are disguised as books. So why would we as a small bookshop with skilled booksellers who already work hard to promote reading in schools, to support new readers, to have close links with our county libraries, and to encourage parents to let their kids explore widely, be helped at all in our task by taking the backwards step of offering kids a celebrity marketing tool instead of a book by an author whose other work we can then talk about with great enthusiasm? World Book Day normally gets this right – there have been some fabulous writers involved in previous years. But this year’s book selection, as a display, is just embarrassing.