Author Archives: Dan

Does it matter who owns your local bookshop?

There’s been a lot of coverage of Mr Daunt setting up unbranded branches of Waterstones. Much of the coverage and comment has been negative accusing him of trying to hoodwink people into believing the shops are actually independently owned. Is this fair? Surely it’s OK for a big company to trade under different names in different markets (VW, Audi, Skoda and Seat for example).

Independent bookshops have a brand image. It’s one that has grown over the years from the expertise, passion and commitment of their owners. To run a small independent bookshop today you have to love what you do. You’re not going to do it for the riches. And this has led to local people (and other book lovers) to develop a love for their bookshop. People hunt out the bookshop in towns they visit. It’s a good job there is this love. Without it bookshops would have folded under the onslaught from Amazon, supermarket best seller racks and Waterstones.

Daunt is trying to get the kudos of being an independent with the cost benefits associated with large purchasing power and the ability to operate business structures that are tax efficient. He can run a team of social media folk to promote the business and no doubt use these folk to promote the unbranded stores. All the other overheads can be shared – including staff who may be expected to work in a number of shops in an area. In competitive terms size matters and Daunt is benefitting from this. Importantly he can also prop up unprofitable stores to compete with smaller rivals. The financial security of having a multi-million dollar parent company owned by a Russian businessman helps.

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If he choses to use these business and financial powers to  compete directly with established small independent bookshops he should be able to put them out of business. Indeed if he can’t he ought to be sacked.

So yes it does matter who owns your bookshop. Waterstones have the power to dominate bookselling if they chose to use it. If instead of setting up in areas where (they claim) there are no true independents they move into areas where there are then the small booksellers are toast. Your book buying choices will be, effectively, Amazon (and its offshoots) or Waterstones. On the high street there will be a monopoly; and if Waterstones pull out there’ll be no high street bookshops. So don’t be taken in by a branding exercise. If you share the passion of the struggling independent bookshop owners of the country then do support them. When they’re gone they’re gone and you’ll be relying on the largesse of Daunt and his Russian backers to provide physical bookshops.

 

Bookshop Events

Our latest events are now here on the events page on the website. We are very proud of the range of events we’ve hosted over the last 4 years from the very highbrow to the decidedly low brow. It was always part of our plan to use the shop as a venue for events and groups and whilst the space is small we hope we’ve made the most of it.

We are always on the look out for interesting events and speakers. If you’d like to suggest an event please do get in touch

We are 4 (ish) – Happy Birthday to us

We have now been open for four years. the anniversary of our opening is always a time to reflect on how things have gone, are going and what the future holds.

It’s fair to say things have gone as well as we could have hoped. We’re still open, we’re solvent, we have managed to operate in line with the ethical goals we had when we were setting up. Not a bad achievement when so many – Cooperative Development Fund I’m talking about you – said we hadn’t a hope of being successful and refused us funding.

What’s interesting is that the one area where things are not as we hoped is in the engagement that our members have with us. We have a small loyal group of members who support our events, turn out for the AGM etc and we are very thankful for their input. What we hadn’t realised is that a large group of people who invested in share treated it as a donation. They obviously supported our aims but didn’t want an ongoing involvement. In effect although they are members of the Coop they treated their investment as crowd funding. If you are one of these people then we’d love to hear from you. If you’re happy that we’re doing OK and don’t want to be involved that’s fine too. We’d just like to say a big thank you to you for the trust you have placed in us.

We’re looking forward to the future and many more years of providing a bookshop for our community and those who visit our beautiful town.

“No legacy is so rich as honesty.”
William Shakespeare

New Year New Events

Well Christmas is past. Phew! Bucking the national high street trend we had good sales and the shop looked kind of bare on Christmas Eve. Thanks to everyone who supported us over Christmas. We hope you enjoyed your purchases.

For the New Year we have an exciting line up of events. You can find details here

It would be great to see you. If you have an idea for an event do let us know. We’re always keen to get new ideas.

Early Summer Events

We’ve just launched our new events programme for the early summer. You can find it here.

If you are around in town over the next week or two have a look at our window. An entire flower show grand marquee in one small window!

Christmas in the Bookshop

So Black Friday 2014 has been and gone. Fights in stores made headline news. An American retail con has been imported as a way to part punters from their cash. Buy stuff you don’t want or need just because it seems to be a bargain. Retailers pass off old stock, offer discounts on inflated prices and generally pull every shady trick in the book to sell stuff.

This is the best time of year to visit a bookshop. The range of books will tempt you into buying without any hard sell nonsense. The atmosphere is bubbling. The warm drinks sure to drive away any winter chill.

On Saturday the Christmas lights were switched on in Malvern. Christmas is officially underway!

Tove Janssson – The Listener

Over the last few years Sort of Books have been doing an brilliant job of publishing translations of Tove Jansson’s adult fiction.The latest is Thomas Teal’s gentle, subtle translation of this collection of stories. The Listener was Tove’s first story collection and was first published in 1971.

The story that gives the collection its name tells the story of an old lady mapping her family in an attempt to preserve memories fading with age.it sets the scene for many of the following stories, many of which feature closely observed characters. Tove’s ability to portray the minutia of character is the thread that links the stories. In many nothing happens but you finish each with just a bit more understanding of people and their travails.

Some of the stories stay with you long after you finish them. The last story in the book, The Squirrel, tells of the relationship between a solitary island dweller and a squirrel. For the lonely, alcoholic woman the squirrel becomes a fixation; unrequited love for the squirrel fills her days. Trying to attract its attention, avoiding scaring it it takes over all her actions. As comment on the difficulties of human relationships the story stays with you.

Don’t read this for the stories, read it for the characters you meet.

Thoughts on Cooperatives

This weekend saw yet more bad publicity for the Cooperative Group. After the banking shambles we now see them agreeing to pay their senior staff huge ‘retention’ payments. Were members consulted? No they were not. If they had been would they have approved these payments? No they wouldn’t. Do payments like this promote the values of cooperation?  No they don’t. Do actions like this undermine all Coops? Yes they do.

When we set up the Book Coop we did it because we believed that the cooperative model was one that was in accord with our values. Certain things are better shared. There’s more to business than making money for shareholders and managers. You can run a good business without resorting to selfish economic motivations. We hope that people who became members of the Coop understood this. As a small Coop we can be inclusive. Whilst not involved in the day-to-day running of the business our members do have a say in all significant decisions; that would include paying staff bonuses that double their salaries!

So why has the Cooperative Group moved so far from the cooperative model that we believe in? I think it is because they forgot that they were run for the benefit of members and tried to compete head-to-head with ‘normal’ commercial businesses. In the heyday of retailing growth the value of cooperation wasn’t obvious and they forgot to nurture it. By making themselves similar to every other business they lost the connection with members and lost their identity. Once that happened making decisions like paying senior managers obscene amounts naturally follows. Everyone else does it so why shouldn’t we; after all we have to compete with them.

Regaining trust is going to be hard. Their current consultation certainly won’t do this. I just hope they do manage to re-establish trust and reconnect with the values of cooperation. If that means a period of turmoil and the ousting of the senior directors who think their recent actions are justified then so be it. Because if they don’t it is not only bad for them but bad for all coops including ours.

Spring 2014

Christmas is well done now, the excess stock returned and a new year well under way. Thanks to everyone who supported us at Christmas and came in to cash in their Christmas book tokens in January.

We’re starting a new project for the spring. On these pages we are going to host book reviews written by members. we hope they provoke debate and inspire people to read something they might otherwise have passed over. The idea comes after we hosted a book speed dating Valentines evening where we tried to match up people with books other people love; well it seemed to make sense at the time! You can find the first review here. If you’d like to post a review please email it to our enquiries@malvernbook.coop address and we’ll post it.

The Goldfinch : Donna Tartt

Well the good news is my arms have recovered from lugging this around! It’s a superbly crafted tale that ranges across a whole swathe of American contemporary cultures from the well to do apartments of New York to the neo-slum outskirts of LA. There’s plenty of drugs, booze, lying and general nastiness set against characters with old school values and deep honesty.

The central character is not wholly likeable and it takes a while to care for him but once you cross that bridge you find yourself eagerly racing through his story rooting for him all the way. The episodes in his life, at first seemingly unrelated with just the Goldfinch theme tying them together, gradually conflate into a surprising and shocking ending. The story telling skill is unquestionably brilliant and wholly deserving of the wide praise it’s received. Overall quite brilliant.