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Thirty-Six Years of Fun

November 30th, 2009 | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Thirty-Six Years of Fun

001‘Thirty-Six Years of Fun’ is how Willie Anderson recently encapsulated his career in bookselling during a talk to students at the Stirling Centre for International Publishing and Communication.

After a swift departure from a career in banking, Anderson began work at John Smith and Son in Glasgow, the oldest existing bookselling company in the world. Rising eventually to the position of Deputy Chairman, Anderson oversees a company with branches in Scotland, England and Ireland, as well as a number of countries in Africa.

Bookselling in the 1970s was a staid, pleasant and gentlemanly (and ladylike) occupation, dominated by people who loved books. But the job was in fact very physical – books are ‘very heavy, dirty things’, that need heaving around the bookshop.

Calling on his decades of experience, Anderson explained to students the change that came about in the book retail sector as a result of the end of the Net Book Agreement. This brought in price promotion: the 3-for-2 and heavy discount offers seen in all chain bookshops, supermarkets and online retailers. Before this, Anderson thought the trade was moribund, with little drive to improve.

However, Anderson’s perception is that the biggest mistake of high street retailers – for all the value and attractive environment that they bring to the consumer – is to try to compete directly with the supermarkets rather than to differentiate their offer.

In his discussion the impact of Amazon and the digital age, Anderson described bookselling as ‘under the biggest amount of threat it has even been’. Speaking shortly before one of the UK’s biggest book chains, Borders, went into administration, his words were prescient.