Belgravia Books – A story for all of us . . . .
Belgravia Books – A story for all of us
An interview with Andy Barr, Manager of Belgravia Books with Mary Regnier-Leigh
"As part of our campaign to save and help local businesses we hope over the next months to profile and promote some of them in our Newsletter and on our website. The first profile is Belgravia Books. Having an independent bookshop these days is not only a pleasure but a privilege. Do support it and our other local shops and businesses and keep Belgravia the lively village it is."
1. Why was Belgravia chosen for the shop? Are you happy with the location?
We chose Belgravia because there was no independent bookshop and we felt residents would appreciate a shop dedicated entirely to books. We are happy with the location, although it would be good to have more passing traffic. Our section of Ebury Street is rather quiet.
2. What kind of books do you sell?
All sorts. Fiction. Nonfiction. Children’s books. As in independent bookshop we try to offer something a bit different, books that you are not necessarily going to think about, and certainly not see across the high street chains and online retailers. We have a focus on books in translation and from independent publishers – a logical fit for us as we are also an independent publisher.
Being an independent bookshop gives us a lot of flexibility in what we stock. There are hundreds of books published each month, and for all the tentpole bestsellers there are a great many more titles that will not be found front of store at high street chains. In the last ten years there has been an increase in small presses with more focussed publishing programmes, specialising in handsome editions of classic biographies or novellas from across Europe. Small bookshops like us can put them in front of people and champion them.
3. Can you get special books for your customers?
Yes. If it is in print and available in the UK, we can order it.
4. What is the demographic of your customers?
The demographic is very broad. There is a great deal of local trade, and not just from residents. We are on the cusp of Victoria, and Victoria has an awful lot going on – tourists (lots of those), workers, parents on the school run.
5. Do you trade on the Internet? If so what proportion of your trade is over the Internet?
We do have our own website from which books can be purchased. It is a more curated selection of the shop but there is a facility on it to request special orders. The same website also serves the publishing side and as such we do sell a lot of our own titles through our website to customers all over the world.
The titles we publish are widely available (not just in our shop). Roughly 30% of sales our from across the internet, be they physical copies or digital downloads.
6. What do you like about Belgravia?
We like the sense of community and our loyal customers
7. If you would like to change something about Belgravia, what would it be?
(I suppose this is kind of answered in question one)
8. Do you see a long-term future for book trade based on retail premises for you? For book shops generally?
I genuinely do not know.
Bookselling has changed a lot in the twenty-plus years I have been working in it and it will continue to change. The extremes of doom that were forecast with the rise of internet retail and e-reading have not quite come to pass, but they have had a massive impact in how bookshops trade and operate and how customers view us. Simply put, there are fewer of us. But we do still exist and there is a need for us to exist – books need to be seen and discovered and a bookshop, with thousands of titles to hand, on immediate view, continue to be the most efficient way of doing that.
However, there is a generation growing up who are comfortable with myriad digital platforms, who consume and perceive books very differently. Their impact will be the most telling factor of all.
Independent bookshops have probably been hit the hardest by changes in UK bookselling. And it is not just changes within the sector – there are challenges with rent and rates and other operational costs and a squeeze on margin from all sides. We are not quite dying out but a new independent bookshop will nearly always offer something more than the traditional bookshop experience. There will be spaces for events, for exhibitions, bars (for coffee, cake or gin or all three and more besides). As much as we view ourselves as a straightforward bookshop (and in many ways we are), we are also a publisher, and have in fact been a publisher for longer (the shop is approaching its sixth birthday, and the publishers has been open for 10 years).
9. I have noticed from time to time you have “parties “ in the shop. Obviously these are promotions. Can you tell me about them?
Many of the parties of late are private launches. Authors and publishers like to celebrate a book launch and we often welcome invited groups (friends and family of the author) to basically have a drink and – ideally – buy a copy of the book.
10. How do you promote your trade and get yourself known around the area – especially Victoria where you mentioned you have a lot of customers?
We participate in a number of discount programmes to encourage local shopping – the Victoria Privilege Card, the Belgravia Residents’ Association. We have advertised locally and we are working more and more with local businesses. And the shop birthday is always a big draw and a great opportunity to get as many people into the shop as possible.
11. How long have you been manager of the shop? What is it about selling books you like?
I have managed the shop for five years. I have worked in bookshops for more than 20. Throughout it all the single thing I like the most about selling books is selling books I like – getting people to read something they had not thought about or did not know about. There are an awful lot of books out there; some of them get attention, many of them do not, and it is always quite exciting to put people onto a brilliant book they had never heard of.