A tale of two bookshops

Sam_read Sam_read_2 Sam Read of Grasmere in the Lake District (north-west England) is the Times readers’  favourite independent bookshop. A feature in the 26 January Bookseller describes the business as 90 per cent tourists with a small core of loyal local customers. The shop has been in Grasmere since 1887. Books on building dry stone walls, books by or on Arthur Ransome and Beatrix Potter, Wordsworth and other lake poets, as well as maps and mountain books all have a high and regular turnover.  The article concludes "Other than a 5 % discount for locals, Nelson [the bookseller] doesn’t compete on price, and sees no reason to. ‘When I see paperbacks in Asda for £3.73 I wonder how I’ll sell any — but I do’ ", Elaine Nelson is quoted as stating.

Elsewhere in the same issue of the Bookseller is a column about Wicked Wendi Store Ltd, which started life on Amazon in 2005 when Wendy Allman was ill and couldn’t work.  Wendy had a lot of books at the time and thought she would "get rid of a few". Before long she was visiting charity shops to find titles and was regularly selling 25 books a day on the Amazone marketplace. The store now has 1.5 million listings on Amazon (UK site) and sells an average of 1,000 to 1,500 a day, across all genres — almost all sales through Amazon. Although the recent postal price increases have decreased the profit margin, Wendy is quoted as saying that the well-organised Amazon system beats selling on eBay, where posting is said to be a "really messy business" and where the customers can be "weird". Wicked Wendi Store aims eventually to sell commission-free through its own website, "but we will always sell through Amazon" says Wendy.

So, there are two more jobs for which I’m going to apply in my alternative universe (the first two are librarian and bus driver).

5 thoughts on “A tale of two bookshops

  1. Ah – I actually popped into that shop when we were in Grasmere for a friend’s wedding. Didn’t get much of a chance to look around, though, as they were closing.

  2. I wish I were at that book shop in the Lake District RIGHT NOW. Instead I am home where everyone in my family has the flu and I’m slowly going over the edge myself…….

  3. If it’s any consolation, Susan, it would be grey and raining there, in all likelihood.
    Sorry to hear about the ‘flu, hope you all get well soon.

  4. For that first shop, it seems like some of its success has to do with the old adage “location, location, location.” How I would love to live in a place with a little downtown area of shops designed for strolling on a pleasant day. I’m in the middle of nowhere and the nearest bookstore is a 20-minute drive away.

  5. I think the tourist “passing trade” has something to do with it, Marydell. I was struck by the statistic in the article that 10 per cent of their business comes from locals, 90 from tourists. That’s probably why they don’t need to compete with Tesco or Amazon — their main customers are relaxed types on holiday with some extra money in their pocket or time to kill as they can’t walk up a mountain in the pouring rain, so they buy a book.
    I was recently in Patrick and Polly’s revamped bookshop in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire. They were doing a good trade in there too, even though the book Cathy wanted (The Devil Wears Pravda) was £8.99 compared with £3.00 on Amazon. C.N. is a Cotswold market town full of antique shops, I am sure you get the picture.
    I’d love to live in one of those places, especially the lake district. I wish they’d advertise for a professor of biophysics at Keswick University (;-) ) then I might persuade Malcolm (a local of the north of the region) to relocate.

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