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bookselling

Working @ Oxfam

April 3rd, 2017 by mette_olesen | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Working @ Oxfam
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While attending some of the LBF17 seminars on ‘how to get into publishing’ we were told (again and again) that hands-on work experience meant more than having a degree in publishing. And though this sentiment was devastating, frustrating, and anxiety inducing to hear as an in-debt publishing student, I do see the merit of it. Getting your hands dirty (from new ink) will definitely provide us with insight that the course, for obvious reasons might be lacking in. For though we have access to Nielsen data and we have visiting speakers from book shops, we won’t gain the experience of actual customers coming in and asking for book recommendations etc. And working in a book shop will give us that new and different perspective to the things we learn in classes. So, I decided to jump right in.

Since that decision was made, I have started to volunteer at the Oxfam bookshop in Stirling. And though I have not worked there that many hours yet, I have tried a bunch of tasks related to book sales. On my first day, I was helping with book pricing, till service and rearranging book shelves. Firstly, pricing books, and seeing how a books value is changed as it passes to another person, was really interesting. It dawned on me, to a greater extend than it had before, that books keep on selling, when they leave the high street shops. But seeing their price reduced, to sometimes extremes in my opinion, made me happy. I kept thinking: “This is so great! Lower prices on all of these amazing books will mean that people might be more prone to buy more books.” And we all know, that anything that makes people read more is a huge plus!
Secondly, working at the till enabled me to see what customers actually bought, and what they were looking for in the shop. For though Oxfam is second-hand, the sales in that shop still reflect the trends of the overall market. The figures and features genres in the bookseller is also what is reflected with Oxfam sales. In the future, I am hoping to do some work on the shops social media pages and to enhance both their visibility and my skills on that score.

Ultimately the things I’ve learned through the course and the things I’ve experienced in Oxfam and hope to experience and build up in the future, will deepen and broaden my understanding of the publishing industry, which will in turn, I hope, help me further my career.

Also – I have to be honest – working in the storage with all of the more expensive and old books is definitely a dream of mine, though I’m tempted to spend all my money on them – which I guess is the danger of a book lover working in a bookshop.

by Mette Olesen

In praise of serendipity

December 16th, 2016 by morven_gow | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on In praise of serendipity
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img_2140In praise of serendipity

Over this semester, we have all enjoyed learning at the collective knees of visiting speakers. They have represented all sectors of the publishing industry – bar one.  Best represented by the chaotic, Bernard Black of Channel 4 TV’s Black Books I confess a deep and abiding love for the mostly unkempt and tatty world of the preloved book.  Every place associated with a book is sacred and has the air of a temple. For me, there is no other book buying experience to top the emotional pull of a second-hand bookshop.

Crossing the hallowed threshold, it’s best to be in a state of mindfulness – open to the calls and vibrations coming your way from the waifs and strays on shelves, on tables or piled high in columns around you.  “What a load of tosh!” I can hear some of you cry out.  But others will agree with me.

You will discover exactly the book you didn’t know you needed or wanted on that day and at that time you ambled into the shop.  We behave quite differently depending on the reading material we require at any one time and, while a bricks/clicks-and mortar bookshop, or Amazon and others, can supply you with exactly what you know you want, their book shelf categories and algorithms cannot hope to compete with the happy discoveries which occur when the infinite random variables in your brain meet the ideas and thoughts bounding off the shelves, tables and columns.

If you are concerned about the ‘dark’, second-hand book economy, with authors, publishers and agents missing out on remuneration, as long as you remember to sing the praises of the books on sites like Goodreads, you will be playing your part in the book selling process, encouraging others to buy and read the books. You may even replace the preloved one with a new copy, if it’s a bit too tatty and it’s captured your heart.  In the photograph, there are some titles which called to me from shelves in Wigtown, Galloway; Arklow, Wicklow; Glasgow and Dunlop.  They have found their ‘forever home’ with me.

Go on.  Find your local ‘Black Books’. Bernard may even have a glass of wine waiting for you.

By Morven Gow

Danny Frew, MLitt in Publishing Studies 2016-17

October 13th, 2016 by danny_frew | Posted in Student Profiles | Comments Off on Danny Frew, MLitt in Publishing Studies 2016-17
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dpsmall

I’m sure that most can easily relate to the feeling of standing on the precipice of change, of being faced with a crucial choice and not quite being confident in taking a leap of faith.

 

That was very much my mindset in the two years that followed my graduation from the University of Strathclyde’s B.A. in English. I was sure that I wanted to continue my studies, but was not completely sure in which manner I should go about capitalizing on my academic experience while also attempting to develop new skills. I quietly pondered this problem for the next two years.

 

Thankfully this wasn’t necessarily a doom-and-gloom tale of post-graduate malaise – or at least not in its entirety. The interim between my studies afforded me some interesting professional development opportunities. I managed to gain an invaluable introduction to bookselling with Waterstones, proficiency in arts administration and content management with Playwrights’ Studio Scotland and thereafter honed my commercial acumen in a lengthy stay as sheet music buyer for Blackwell’s South Bridge store.

 

In each of these roles I was lucky enough to be working within literary environments in which my personal interests were considered to be useful attributes. I grew to appreciate how multifaceted the literary sector is and particularly just how demanding the business of bookselling can be.

 

Having been so exposed to the inner-workings of the bookselling industry and having been made responsible for developing relationships with publishing contacts, I suppose that it was only natural that I would begin to consider what employment in the publishing industry may be like. This thought germinated and I began to seriously consider postgraduate study.

 

In surveying my options, the MLitt at the University of Stirling became a clear front runner. The course was well marketed. There was an international reputation to take note of, an impressive body of published research, and of course a gorgeous campus to revel in. Yet, most important was that the course placed a strong focus on vocational training. Issues of employability were central to my decision making process and so after deducing this I was not only reassured about the MLitt – I was sold.

 

Now having entered the fourth week of course, I’m pleased to announce that I am more confident than ever in my decision to embark on this particular course. I consistently feel challenged and engaged and I am delighting in the chance to explore the fields of design and production. I am particularly interested in how the physical book will continue to adapt to the expansion of the digital landscape and in which ways traditional binding and printing techniques may be repurposed so as to affirm literary heritage.

 

The return to academia is already proving to be a challenge, but I’m ready for the battle. I know that I will graduate with industry savvy and find myself ready to enter the workplace.

 

Post-graduation I intend to seek permanent employment in the U.S.

 

Links: 

 

 

 

Helena Markou, PhD in Publishing Studies

October 8th, 2015 by Helena Markou | Posted in Student Profiles | Comments Off on Helena Markou, PhD in Publishing Studies
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biog_helena_markouWorking TitleThe Shelf-Life of Books: An Exploration of the Lifecycle and Longevity of Books in the UK in the 21st Century

Topic:  With 180,000 new titles now published each year, there is fierce competition for space on bookshop shelves.  This research aims to identify and investigate longselling titles within UK trade publishing (namely the books you find in high street bookshops).  It will first establish an overview of the typical lifecycle of books across genres, using quantitative data analysis.  Then seek to identify and explore the cultural significance of those titles that, against all odds, remain on bookshop shelves.

Through this research data analysis methods will be developed and the themes of longevity, obsolesce and the impact of online bookselling on the UK publishing industry explored.

Research interests: bookselling, publishing, product development, consumerism, book history, book culture, creative industries, digital publishing, digital book history, digital humanities.

 

Supervisors:

Scholarships: SGSAH AHRC Doctoral Training Partnership Studentship

Links:

Helena on Twitter: @helena_markou
Helena on LinkedIn
Helena on Academia.edu

Email: h.l.markou[at]stir.ac.uk

Visiting Speaker: Dr Simon Frost, Bournemouth University

November 14th, 2014 by Sarah Boyd | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Visiting Speaker: Dr Simon Frost, Bournemouth University
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Simon FrostAs an extra addition to the Visiting Speaker series, Dr Simon Frost, Senior Lecturer in English at Bournemouth University, came to talk to us about his current research project. Entitled ‘Private Gains and Retailed Literature: Pathways to a Sustainable-Economic Account of Reading‘ (though Frost pointed out that his subtitle keeps changing!), this ambitious project is being undertaken in association with John Smith’s, the higher-education bookseller familiar to most students for their on-campus shops.
It’s probably worth mentioning at this point that Dr Frost’s project is quite a complex and, in some ways, esoteric one and that it is very much ongoing and developing, so at times it became a little difficult to take on all of the information he was conveying. The seven-and-a-half pages of notes I took during his presentation are testament to this! However, I’ll do my best to cover what he had to say.
First, Dr Frost outlined the aim of his project, to produce a defence of literature (the project is focused on fiction) in economic terms, rather than the cultural terms in which arguments for literature’s value are usually expressed. This was one of the trickier ideas to get our heads around but Frost put it in layman’s terms, saying that he’s trying to find out why a customer would choose to buy books, rather than booze! Essentially, his belief is that pointing to literature’s cultural importance does not mount a strong enough defence for the funding and resources allocated to it and that we require a discussion that engages with the economics of literature in sustainable terms or, in other words, attempts to discover what readers gain from the books they buy in more practical terms.
We then looked at the structure of Frost’s project, which is organised into three ‘threads’:
  • ‘theorisation’ – produce a model of how readers gain from books, bridging the literary and economic by investigating the idea that books meet intangible needs for readers.
  • ‘tuition’ – a number of students will be involved in the research for this project, particularly in compiling the results of an extensive survey, aiming for 750 completed surveys.
  • ‘professional practice’ – working in conjunction with John Smith’s, examine the shift from ‘bookseller’ to ‘book-based supplier of solutions’, in particular the move to provide new services based on outcomes/gains.

John Smith's BooksIn order to explain how he became involved with John Smith’s, Dr Frost gave us a potted pre-history of the current bookselling situation in Britain. John Smith’s has been around since 1751, so it has survived and responded to the major changes that have happened in the bookselling industry over the last several centuries, from the 1899 establishment of the Net Book Agreement (NBA) and its encouragement of dedicated bookstores, to the collapse of the Agreement in the 1990s which led to the downfall of almost all chain booksellers on the British High Street. More recently, the rise of online bookstores (themselves largely a result of the NBA’s collapse) has forced John Smith’s to rethink its business, as Amazon and its ilk have disrupted the traditional tutor-student-campus bookstore relationship. Their response has been to stop thinking of themselves as ‘booksellers’ at all and instead re-brand as a provider of solutions for students and Higher Education (HE) institutions. Indeed, their website is tagged as ‘John Smith’s Student Store’, with no reference to bookshops at all.

In effect, this has resulted in John Smith’s working with HE institutions to provide students with all the resources they need to successfully enter, negotiate and exit higher education. Their Stirling store, for instance, lists 15 departments, providing products from art supplies to bikes, mobile phones to university-branded clothing. They are no longer thinking about how they can sell the most books to students but about how they can meet all the needs that students might have, how they can become the main provider of solutions to students’ demands and problems (as well as aiding HE institutions to meet their outcomes). In this way, their rethinking of their business model fits neatly with Dr Frost’s project, as it relocates books as one part of a service that anticipates and provides everything that students will gain from appropriating. So, a copy of ‘Mrs Dalloway’ is no longer just a tool for education and cultural influence but also a product that can be analysed and quantified in economic terms.

aspireFor the final part of his presentation, Dr Frost went into more detail about how the relationship between students, their HE institutions and this new incarnation of John Smith’s works. An essential part of this is the distribution of bursaries to students in England (introduced as a mitigating response to the raising of tuition fees). Universities receive a sum of money from the government and parcel this out to selected students in bursaries, often around £300, which are intended to widen opportunities for students from low-income backgrounds (and, ideally, to be spent on university-related goods and services, rather than down the pub, though we did have a discussion of whether or not the social environment provided by pubs – and cafes, equally expensive though perhaps less stigmatised – is a valuable part of the university experience!). John Smith’s have become involved in this process via their ‘Aspire‘ smartcard, which can be pre-loaded with the bursary money and limits what it can be spent on. This allows for a number of interesting features, from each card being tailored to its recipient’s needs, to facilitating data gathering and feedback to the institution. Of course, as several members of the class pointed out, this has some moral and legal implications, particularly with regards to privacy (the idea of tutors being able to keep tabs on whether you’ve purchased their reading list or not is more than a little Big Brother!) and this is an area that Dr Frost will be looking into as his study develops. At the moment, though, his main questions in this area are:

  1. Is the diversity of purchasing agency (i.e. those involved in the process of purchasing) now so great that it produces a break from the linear rational-choice model of purchasing?
  2. Do the limits imposed by the ‘Aspire’ model constitute an interruption of free will or free exchange? They limit the convertibility of one resource to another (the bursary can be turned into books or bikes but not beers) but do they also limit free choice? Such limits are common in the public world but how do they function in the semi-commercial and commercial spheres?
It was fascinating to hear about a project still in progress, with Dr Frost acknowledging that he is still in the process of gathering information and developing the theories and concepts that will form his ultimate conclusions. His observation that his ‘inner critic’ was working even as he spoke was one that I – and I’m sure most of us – identified with, but it’s reassuring to know that the pros suffer too. It was also great to feel that he was genuinely interested in our responses and in engaging in conversation with his audience – it’s always encouraging to feel that we’re being taken seriously by people already working! I’ll be interested to see the results of his project and how it shifts and develops as it progresses.