by Lindsay Flannigan
Milk, bread, potatoes, the latest Jeffery Deaver novel… The supermarket book-buying trend is coming to a town near you!
Throwing the latest celebrity autobiography or newest cookbook into your shopping trolley might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but for the majority of us it doesn’t get any more convenient than stepping out of the meat aisle and into the book aisle to browse through the bestseller’s chart.
Accounting for one in five of all books sold, why are we choosing to shop within the supermarket giants for a good read, when informative staff, high levels of personal service and no chance of your eggs cracking over your new book are available to us at our independent bookshops? Statistics show those who buy books at their local ASDA or Tesco’s whilst completing their weekly shop, do so simply for convenience. According to the Bookseller in 2009, Sainsbury’s is the best bookseller in the country after increasing book sales by more than 33% and attracting new book buyers to the market.
With my local Tesco supermarket in the running to become the next big bookseller, I had to have a look for myself. Although the customer is immediately presented with a limited choice of books (the bestseller list only) you cannot help but feel drawn in by the tremendously discounted prices; two books for £7, or one for £3.85 across all paperbacks. It is hard to resist picking up a book and popping it into your basket when you are aware that the same book in WHSmith or Waterstones would cost you £7.99.
With prices this low it is hard to comprehend how bookstores can compete, and taking into account the costs of editing, production and printing, can publishers hope to make any profit in this evolving marketplace? To even stand a chance of competing, publishers and booksellers must work together in the face of these industry giants that take up a vast share of the market. For the first time, this year’s Publishing Scotland conference in Edinburgh was held in association with The Booksellers Association. Perhaps this is the beginning of a new partnership that will create a force to be reckoned with by the supermarket giants.
Experience Over Price?
Bookstores can only come out on top in this situation if they are willing to offer the customer something that is a cut above the supermarket experience. In competing with the supermarket giants, booksellers, both chain and independent must focus on what they can offer in terms of customer service, whether that is expert advice, a café for relaxation and refreshment or simply a safe haven for booklovers. With these factors in mind, supermarket book aisles are a diluted and unsatisfactory book-buying arena. We can only hope that the public still crave an experience beyond this flimsy replication, and that booksellers have not yet given up the fight for their livelihoods and their market share.