Publishing Focus – London Review Bookshop
As part of our focus on the future of bookshops, and to celebrate Independent Bookshop Week, we wanted to get the lowdown from one of the South East’s most popular bookstores; London Review Bookshop.
We spoke to bookshop manager Natalia de la Ossa about her vision for independent retailers, and what it takes to be successful in a fiercely competitive marketplace.
Also read: The state and future of independent bookselling in the UK
Thanks for speaking to us, Natalie! Firstly, could you give us a quick introduction to London Review Bookshop?
The London Review Bookshop originally started as an offshoot of the literary journal London Review of Books. It was intended to be a space where the books that were reviewed in the magazine would be sold, with a mail-order component to send them abroad to their foreign subscribers.
Within a few years it became obvious that it was able to have its own identity and it grew from there. Thirteen years on the bookshop has its own brand identity and a varied events program. We see it as a place for dialogue and discussion of books and ideas; a physical space that reflects the ethos of the company.
How has being in London shaped you as a bookshop?
Being in London can push bookshops in two different directions, to be incredibly niche and rely on the sheer number of potential customers, or to be broad and allow your business to grow and develop in other ways. We supply a wide range of books, but due to our limited space we prefer to have one title of each book, each carefully selected by our booksellers.
Bloomsbury has been key in the shaping of our shop, it has strong literary history and charm, bringing in people from all around the city. The London Review Bookshop embodies these values in many ways, we feel we are part of a community underpinned by an array of cultural industries in the area.
What would you say about the state of independent bookselling at the moment?
There is a very positive outlook in bookselling at the moment. Customers and publishers are making an effort to create relationships with independent bookshops. There is an atmosphere of hope with people returning to independent shops and new bookshops opening in the last year.
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How do you build the bookshop experience for your customers?
One of the things that makes our shop what it is, are the booksellers. They are all incredibly knowledgeable, what’s more they really love the book industry too. They know the books well; they love to chat with the customers about their favourite reads or what is new and exciting. It is at this point that it becomes an interchange of knowledge rather than a sales pitch.
This is a unique experience for our customers and a key part of our shop’s identity. We purposefully offer a wide-range of titles, focusing on the quality of the writing rather that any one particular genre or theme. We also have a successful Cake Shop, where people can sit down with coffee, tea, cake or lunch. This adds further to our atmosphere of exchange, as somewhere to shared ideas with others. This is also why we have chairs and tables throughout the shop so people can enjoy the beautiful space.
We are continually thinking of ways that we can provide something extra for our customers. In our events programme we tend to have two speakers or authors followed by Q&As so the audience can partake in the conversation. We also do film screenings in the basement hosted by authors followed by group discussions, which have now been successfully running for a year.
Would you say it’s necessary for bookshops to diversify or stick to their guns?
There is no one answer for all independent bookshops. Every bookshop has to adapt to what their customers want. Independent shops have felt pressure to diversify and offer more for their customers. Whether or not they choose to has a lot to do with location, loyalty, what they already offered and their existing customer base.
As a physical on-street bookstore, how do you embrace the online world?
The model of our bookshop has changed with the online world, we have worked to maintain an online presence. At the moment, we do not sell books online, preferring to focus on the experience and space of the shop itself; that is not to say that being online isn’t incredibly important, we want to reach our customers in the best way that we can.
We have the resources to upkeep the website and have an active social media presence, we use it to communicate with publishers and other bookshops as well as creating a sense of community around the shop for our existing loyal customers.
How much do you work directly with publishers?
We have established very trusting relationships with the publishers: we meet face to face with reps and publicists regularly. There is constant dynamic conversation, allowing us to trust their judgment.
In a nutshell, how do you see the future of books?
Books will continue, as will the publishing industry. I believe publishers will make effort to create beautiful books, pieces of art in themselves, which will add something new to the reading experience. This focus on authenticity and the experience of reading is part of why independent bookshops are thriving. I think a lot will change, but the reason that people love to read will not.
What advice would you give to an independent bookshop starting up now?
Be prepared to work very hard.
Great to hear from Natalia and the team from LRB. Thanks to her for speaking to Ribbonfish! You can learn more about the store on their website, or follow them on Twitter for the latest news and events.
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