Friday, January 30, 2009

Award Season - The Best New Bookshops

In both the US and in the UK, there are annual awards for the best bookshops. In the US the award is called "bookseller of the year" and ran by Publisher's Weekly. The UK has two versions - the "independent bookshop of the year" organized by the Publishing News as part of their British Book Industry Awards. The US ones are a bit harder to find, but for both awards they give a good view into some of the more successful bookshops in the world, including some in business for over 100 years.

Its enjoyable to read about such shops, but there 's a lot to learn from them as well.

For starters, the two bookshops between the big pond could not have been more different on the surface. In the US, the 2008 win went to Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena CA. Started in 1894, Adam Clark Vroman came West for his wife's health and was also a photographer, who western views and Native American images influenced Ansel Adams. The shop has always been sizable, and is still the largest independent in California and has over 20 staff. There is a solid talk with their head buyer at the LA Weekly, though the article is 2 years old.

Mr. B's Emporium of Reading Delights is located in the resort town of Bath, famous since Roman times. Opened in 2006, Mr. B's won praise and customers immediately, with the vision and energy of its founders Nic and Juliette Bottomley. With 3 floors books of books and a surprisingly useful bathtub, Mr. B's seems to have a well thought out selection for a whole range of tastes. They even detailed their decision to start their shop at the Guardian. They have recently expanded to 6 staff.

In browsing the articles about these two bookshops and their own websites, their differences seem to fade away a bit. Both have very active book groups. Both have good ordering programs in place. Both have a healthy number of events, though Vroman's clearly has an edge here because of its size. Also, through email, newsletters, groups, and of course their web pages, both shops have solid lines of current communication up between themselves and their buyers. They support local external book and literacy events, and local authors. In short, they know the books well, know who they are and they know their customers. That, to me, is the fundamental understanding a bookshop has to have to survive.

I know we all often hear about independent bookshops closing and the problems they endure from sales to online competition. But shops like these can give us a window into how bookshops can and will continue. So click on the links, and go look at past winners as well. There's more than a little for any owner of a shop for used, rare or new books to learn from these folks.

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