Yesterday was UK Bookshop Day, the annual event which celebrates the huge contribution made to civilised life by all British bookshops, especially independents. It also marks the beginning of the current year’s ‘Books Are My Bag’ [BAMB] initiative for the run-up to Christmas and beyond.
The whole BAMB drive was conceived of and masterminded by the UK Booksellers Association, which now administers it. Authors and readers alike are very fortunate to have, working on our behalf, this imaginative, dedicated, hard-working and amazingly small team of people led by Tim Godfray, its long-term CEO. I was lucky enough to attend, on 11th September, the BA’s annual conference and there to get a sneak preview of some of this year’s BAMB marketing material, which includes beautiful mugs and book bags designed by Orla Kiely.
I always visit at least one bookshop on Bookshop Day. Yesterday I headed for Rickaro Books in Horbury, one of my favourite bookshops, which is run by my (very) long-term friend and colleague, Richard Knowles.
Richard was my first boss after I left university – I won’t mention how many years ago! His bookshop, situated in a small Yorkshire town of great character, is a veritable jewel. As well as stocking new books (including all the Christina James titles – he has kindly agreed to distribute Fair of Face postcards and to supply copies of the book for purchase at my event in Wakefield One on 18th November), he is an accomplished antiquarian bookseller, with an enviable vintage stock. He provides a world-class service by selling antiquarian books on a limited range of topics and does indeed attract customers from all over the world.
Richard always engages in BAMB festivities. Yesterday, he had decorated his windows with promotional bunting and was offering discounts on new books. His dog Tilly
(the inspiration for the Tilly Club that Rickaro Books runs for children) entered into the spirit of the day by sporting a Books Are My Bag T-shirt. Richard said that he’d suggest that Sophie, one of his booksellers, should wear the same T-shirt on Monday morning. I’m assuming that this was one of his lugubrious and slightly macabre jokes, but, just in case, I shall send the link to this post to Sophie!
I bought three books, two for myself (The Greatest Knight, by Thomas Asbridge, and The Idea of North, by Peter Davidson) as well as, for a young person of my acquaintance, a book which I won’t describe here, as it’s intended to be a surprise. Instead of the Orla Kiely bags, Richard had others featuring Christopher Robin – appropriate for a shop which is a magnet for child readers. Several of them came in while I was there, including a screaming toddler whose tears turned to smiles as soon as she crossed the threshold. Such is the power of a good bookshop!
One of the charms of Rickaro Books is that it doesn’t change very much from visit to visit. However, as soon as I walked in yesterday, I was struck by a very significant new addition to the furnishings. Richard has acquired the striking and quite famous portrait of Thomas Gent, the eminent eighteenth-century Yorkshire historian, poet and printer (and therefore, like all printers of the time, also a bookseller), painted by Nathan Drake in 1770, when Gent was seventy-seven. (He lived for another eight years after this, dying in 1778 at the ripe old age of eighty-five.)
Gent was highly respected in his own day, but was, as his Wikipedia biography laconically states, ‘financially unsuccessful’. I wonder what he would have made of Books Are My Bag? I think it’s likely he would have approved of it and I’m certain that he would have loved to have had the opportunity to obtain support from an early version of the Booksellers Association.
[This is the second of my posts about BOOKS ARE MY BAG. You might like some background to the campaign here.]
I spent yesterday at the Booksellers Association Conference, which was held for the second year running on the campus of Warwick University. It was a wonderfully upbeat occasion and celebrated the many successes of the BOOKS ARE MY BAG campaign (now also known as BAMB), which was launched to the industry at the London Book Fair in April. All the activities that were built on this afterwards culminated in the public launch on 14th September.
Patrick Neale, current President of the BA (and also proprietor of a wonderful bookshop in Oxfordshire – and also, incidentally, a former colleague of mine) listed some of the many triumphs of 14th September. Here are a few of the key ones:
• The BAMB campaign ‘trended’ on social media.
• Footfall in bookshops increased by 17.4% and sales by 18.5%. Booksellers everywhere said that it ‘felt like Christmas.’
• The most pleasing thing of all was that everyone in the industry – booksellers and publishers alike – realised that this was just the start of celebrating the unique attributes of the physical bookshop.
Dame Gail Rebuck, CEO of Random House, who visited Patrick’s shop on 14th and cut his BAMB cake, said that she loved the sense of energy that the campaign has brought. She said, ‘Of course publishers care about bookshops; they are the lifeblood of our culture.’ She was not the only celebrated person to visit Patrick’s bookshop on that day. First of all, Samantha Cameron came in with her daughter (so the staff decided not to pester her); then the Prime Minister himself followed and the staff, deciding that he was fair game, asked if they could take his photograph. He said that he was in favour of the campaign and obliged (all memories of Jimmy Wales and the ‘free’ information in Wikipedia evidently forgotten!).
I shall write more about the conference – which was full of good ideas for authors as well as for publishers and booksellers – and about the campaign. For now, though, I’d just like to share with you the contents of the wonderful goody bag that I received at the end of the day, along with another BOOKS ARE MY BAG bag, which I shall carry with the same pride as its two predecessors, now grubby from a whole summer of being paraded everywhere I’ve been. I’m doubly proud that a postcard about Almost Love was included.
Oh, and in case you’re interested, here’s that photo of the PM outside Patrick’s shop!
As a former bookseller, my heart was gladdened by attending the announcement of the Books are My Bag campaign, which for me was the most exciting single event held at the London Book Fair this year. The campaign has been devised by M & C Saatchi and is entirely based on a single, simple, very effective message: that the passion for books and bookshops is a precious part of our national heritage and something that we should cherish, celebrate and promote. It is a campaign of perfect solidarity: all booksellers (whether they belong to chains or independents) and publishers are uniting with one voice to celebrate the pleasures and cultural importance of the high street bookshop.
Tim Godfray, CEO of The Booksellers Association and Richard Mollet, CEO of the Publishers Association, both spoke at the event. They were joined by some industry legends, including Patrick Neale, currently President of the Booksellers Association and joint owner of the marvellous Jaffé Bookshop in Oxfordshire (in a previous life he was the inspiration behind the equally wonderful Waterstone’s Sauchiehall Street bookshop in Glasgow) and Gail Rebuck, Chair and CEO of Random House (who, like Dame Marjorie Scardino, has proved that women can get to the top of large corporate publishing houses and stay there).
Patrick’s message was strong and direct. He made the point perfectly that there is far more to the experience of buying a book than receiving a brown cardboard parcel through the post: “We all know that there are many ways to buy and sell books, but what Books are My Bag captures and celebrates is the physical; the simple truth that bookshops do more physically to let people enjoy their passion for books.” Gail Rebuck said: “In these challenging times for the UK High Street, it is terrific that a world-renowned advertising company – M & C Saatchi – has devised such a positive campaign for all booksellers.”
In keeping with its message about the physical presence of bookshops, the campaign will feature strong branding and a very distinctive prop: a cloth bag with the words BOOKS ARE MY BAG printed on it in capitals in neon orange. These bags will be given to customers by bookshops across the country when the campaign is launched on 14th September. I wasn’t sure about the colour when I first saw it – and I was hugely impressed that Tim Godfray was prepared to spend the whole day wearing a matching T-shirt emblazoned with the orange slogan. However, throughout the Book Fair, I spotted people carrying these bags (the BA gave them out daily) and I concluded that they are very effective indeed. As Patrick put it, “This is the first time anyone has needed sun-glasses when inside the London Book Fair.” I have acquired two of them, one from the BA stand and one from the event, and I shall carry them with pride throughout the summer.
Anyone reading this blog who is interested in knowing more about this, here is your link Books are My Bag to its dedicated website.
I love bookshops!