Sunday, September 30, 2007

modern retail methods

something of a first at the Pan Bookshop this week- we're doing a three for two promotion. According to some of our staff that means that the Vandals are just across the river and civilization will collapse any minute. I don't know, I don't think we can constantly say these things don't work and that our customers do not want them without doing the most basic research and trying some. It is, however, rare to find a promotion where we can come close to matching the price of the big boys and so if price is an issue we still won't get the sale. Also I am not really a fan of discounting it really only seems to lead to inflated recommended prices . We often sell books at launch parties and are asked if the book is discounted but if you don't think the book is worth it's full price at it's launch party- when is it worth it's full price!
That said I am always willing to try something new and those nice people at Random House- well their nice rep, Peter- came along and offered me a spiffing deal on their fabulous PG Wodehouse hardbacks and this I now pass on to our customers.
Buy 2 of any of the very excellent PG Wodehouse hardbacks from Everyman and you will get a third completely free. Who knows, if it works it could catch on.


modern retail methods

Friday, September 28, 2007

what's in a name

I've been sent a letter- apparently Thomson Learning has changed its name. It is now CENGAGE Learning. wow.
''The new name is based on being at the 'centre of engagement' for learning worldwide.''
''We hope you'll agree that the name Cengage Learning reflects our commitment to promoting engagement and improving results for all our customers.''

is it just me or.......

Thursday, September 27, 2007

ow my head hurts

so that was the Bloomsbury 21st birthday party.
I have to say the combination of not going out much, as much free wine as you can be bothered to queue for and being a hungry non meat eater at an event where Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall provides much of the food is a heady one.
After being part of only about 10 people among around 400 actually watching the excellent Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain (I can't believe that such a thunderous version of Psycho Killer will ever be played before such a large group of rational people to so little response ever again) then meeting up with my first ever Bloomsbury rep (I still remember the craft list),
the guy I gave my first ever order to (the legendary Barry from Penguin- now Bloomsbury),
after getting lost on the way home (never take a short cut when you're drunk), my trousers splitting, inappropriate (and, I'm pretty sure, just down right bad) dancing as well as catching up with, amongst others, the ever magnificent Mathew late of Deansgate now Manchester University press, the biggest surprise of the night was finding out that Richard Charkin had left Macmillan for Bloomsbury (actually the inappropriate dancing may still be the biggest surprise)

Richard seems to have copped a lot of flak from the book blogging world-quite a lot of it simply for being good at what he did. From here it seems he did an impeccable job of taking Macmillan and specially the magazines and academic side of it, through to where we are in the 'digital revolution'. More relevant to the shop (for those that don't know, the Pan Bookshop is owned by Macmillan, Richard was CEO until yesterday) is that Richard lives just around the corner from us and although there must have been times when he must have been bursting to say something he never interfered with the shop. I think we have about 3 books that we might not have had if our overall boss didn't shop here regularly (RSC Shakespeare which was borderline but maybe proximity of it's publisher got 4 onto the table rather than just one copy on the shelf and this was a margin issue rather than anything to do with the quality of the book- I also have 2 copies of the new Macmillan Advanced Learners Dictionary as I did want to show Richard that we actually got a better deal from the wholesaler rather than Palgrave- the academic wing of Macmillan- who are part of the same company as us!)
So farewell Richard, I think he is going to be a pretty tough act to follow and I'm sure Macmillan will miss him but I hope we'll still see him at Pan

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


ok- having mentioned that retailers tend to write about our strange customers it's probably only fair to hold ones own hand up when committing a shopping faux pas myself

last weekend, with a spare half-hour at Crystal Palace high street I nipped into the local antique/flea market. I had little time and went with two objectives- a cheap toy and a particular record. Arran had just left Woolworth's sans tears after we had bought a present for his mate whose party it was later that day- this I considered as a result worthy of reward. Anyway first stall we get to loads of great plastic toys in perfect nick for £2 each. Hooray. After a short time we agree on the Blue Power Ranger with excellent morphing abilities rather than the (my favorite, very excellent Thunderbird 2). We paid and as we were leaving I said to Arran to say 'Thank you' and the very nice lady who ran the stall said that he had, I then said something like 'I meant to you' or 'I meant for you' and Arran mumbled a 'thank you' as did the lady.
I then had to negotiate some steps and stuff with the buggy and got to the record stall where, right at the front of 'H' was the very record, Hawkwind 'Space Ritual', I was after- for £10 (I'd sold it for £30 about 25 tears ago when I was on the dole!) Flushed with my success I did not think about the buying of the toy until I got to the library where I was meeting my partner.
I began to get worried, had that been a surprised expression? Was there strange body language? Had that been an inappropriate 'Thank you?' as I knew that he had already said it to me. I am now convinced that the very nice, very helpful lady at the toy stall thought that when I asked Arran to say, 'thank you' to her she interpreted my comment as requesting her to say 'thank you' to Arran! How mortifying is that? Over half an hour had passed, I did not really think I could return and find out- I think I've over analysed but what if I haven't? How can I go back?

p.s A very good toy a third of the price of less good ones brand new- and the very double vinyl album I'm after for a tenner- all in 30 minutes at my local highstreet- how about that?- remember kids- the internet- it's not everything.

Monday, September 24, 2007

what's the story morning glory

well, that was the most exhilarating ride I've had into work for sometime. Mind you as I was going down the 40mph plus hill (not at 40mph I hasten to add) into west Norwood I was thinking, rather wistfully, of Adam at Crockatt and Powell and the extra breaking capability of the fixed wheeled bicycle (I was also wondering which definition of 'waterproof' my jacket manufacturers were using- not one I know.)

Anyway- speaking, as we were, of audio books brings us nicely onto the subject of spoken word radio. Obviously the top dog is Radio 4 and one of the many jewels in it's crown is the glory that is Sunday morning- has a piece of scheduling ever so fitted it's day of the week (I guess at this point if you're not a fan of the Archers or Desert Island discs you would probably say no- but keep reading anyway) There is, however, a new(ish) kid on the block and their, early, Sunday morning is a thing of rare beauty. I've been listening to Oneword radio since getting my first DAB radio about a year ago- it's worth checking out as probably the best book orientated station available but it's only recently that I have been listening at 7.30 am on a Sunday, which is a shame as I have missed out. At this time you can hear the Classic serial- so far I've heard gems such as the Naxos Canterbury Tales and The Inferno at the moment it is Remembrance of Things Past. The cadences of Prousts sentences perfectly suit a Sunday morning (as well as blocking out the Transformers/power rangers/batman etc coming from the next room). I've never actually checked how long the programme goes on for- it seems to last for ages- but in a good way.
The true genius that is the Oneword Sunday is, however, only about to be revealed. What would you follow Proust , Dante or Chaucer with? I'm sure there are plenty of great suggestions but I'd bet none of you would think of following them with a Mills and Boon title. Oneword do and it works. The current one seems to be called 'Wife against her will' by Sarah Craven, in the space of a few weeks I have moved from incredulity and rushing for the preset buttons to quite looking forward to this piece of fluff.
Honestly Proust and pulp, it really is the best Sunday morning out there.

Friday, September 21, 2007


A pretty regular item on bookshop, and I guess most retailer, blogs is the strange customer enquiry.
My winner on the ‘What data were they possibly basing that question on’ scale is probably ‘do you sell hats?’ I like it best as, while not being spectacular, it is so wildly off the wall. The subject of this post, however, is slightly different and was bought to mind when I mentioned the Question of Upbringing audio yesterday.

The other day a customer came in and asked for a few books, they were for a mixture of fiction and non-fiction and were pretty good books, a customer to be proud of (that sounds really patronising but I’m just scene setting here)
Coming back from the politics section where we had just collected, I think, Looming Tower, we walked past the talking books section- at this point my customer stops and says something like ‘oh my God!.’ Now, I quite like my audio section I think it’s pretty good but even I know it has its limits and would never suspect that it could, quite literally, take someone’s breath away. As it turned out it was not the quality of the section that so impressed it was its very existence. My customer did not know that there were such things as books on tape and was quite delighted to find that there were. I explained that some were abridged, some- obviously I suppose, unabridged and some dramatised. The customer explained that she was ‘a bit behind the times.’
I in no way wish to say the customer was strange but this was one of the oddest exchanges I’ve had in a bookshop- it still seems inconceivable that someone who obviously knows their way around the book world did not know of the existence of books on tape.

I thought it best not to mention cd’s or mp3 players

Thursday, September 20, 2007

dance to the music of time

I've just sold, for the first time in a while, 'A Question of Upbringing', the first of the 'Dance to the Music of Time' novels. In fact, I've sold a few- a mixture of the customer asking for it and me recommending it. One of these recommends I'm particularly pleased with as it was to our most prolific buyer of modern fiction. Stuck for an idea- especially as this customer has read more 21st century novels than I, or indeed most booksellers, have, I decided to try suggesting something a bit different. I shouldn't have been worried as this customer likes good writing and Dance to the Music.. drips with quality prose but being the first in a 12 bock sequence about the life and times of narrator Nicholas Jenkins 'A Question of Upbringing' is a public school/campus novel (and, I think, one of the weakest in the series) and I was not at all sure that this would appeal to my customer. Also it has become fashionable to decry Powell as dated and just too posh, in my view neither accusation holds but when you hear something so often you wonder what other people may think, it is a tricky thing recommending books, after all someone is going to give over a few hours of their life to your suggestion- I take it seriously.
Anyway- said customer perused the book for a while, bought it and the next day two of her friends came in to pick up the next 3 in the sequence she loved it so much.

By coincidence my partner picked up a copy of the audio version read by Simon Callow. Even in this abridged form its quality stands out-a fairly random example, Jenkins on unexpectedly meeting someone from his old school
'....there was still a kind of exotic drabness about his appearance that seemed to mark him out from the rest of mankind.'
'He also retained his accusing manner, which seemed to suggest that he suspected people of trying to worm out of him important information which he was not, on the whole, prepared to divulge at so cheap a price as that offered.'

I haven't even mentioned richness of characters such as X. Trapnel the greatcoat wearing, sword stick carrying budding genius or Kenneth Widmerpool the subject of the above descriptions and one of the great malicious presences in English literature or that the 12 books become a history of London from about 1920 until 1970 and within these books are several excellent war novels.

So come on- having failed to ignite a moo min revolution, although someone did get me a very nice Moomin mouse mat from Finland- Let's start a Dance to the Music of Time revival.

Monday, September 17, 2007

top 20

I've just sent off our current bestsellers to John who helps on our website- a slightly stalled project as we have managed to miss eachother over most of the summer, ho hum, anyway I thought I might as well post it here too.

Pan bestsellers Sunday 16th September
Top 20- no particular order

Singled Out by Virginia Nicholson
A best seller for us partly because we sold the book at her launch but also because the story of how 2,000,000 women survived without men after the first world war is a fascinating one.

Wild Places by Robert Macfarlane
MacFarlane’s previous book, ‘Mountains of the Mind’ is a meditation on mountaineering - its history and literature. His new subject is more defined but no less challenging. In ‘The Wild Places’ Robert Macfarlane is searching for the wildness that remains in the British Isles. His writing is beautiful his subject fascinating but even without all that the book would probably be worth it for the suggested reading list alone!

Hardens London
Zagat London
Two hardy perennials, constantly battling out year after year, vieing to suggest which restaurant you should visit- always amongst our bestsellers, much loved reference books of our customers. Hardens seems to be favoured by Brits, Zagats favoured by the Americans

Uncommon reader by Alan Bennett
I hate to use the phrase ‘much loved’ in consecutive capsule reviews but if I didn’t I’d have to use the phrase ‘national treasure’ which would be a greater sin. ‘Much loved’ he may be but Alan Bennett is a talented writer and this is meant to be one of his best- according to Geoffrey (our crime buyer so he should know) it has an ‘absolutely brilliant ending’

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
Probably does not need me to say anything about it- one of the favourites to win the ManBooker this year, lovely cover- we’ve sold a lot of it

Shakespeare by Bill Bryson
It’s about Shakespeare, it’s by Bill Bryson, get your signed copies here.

Atonement by Ian McEwan
The author will probably hate this phrase but, the book of the film. Atonement sold loads when it first came out as a new hardback and loads more as a new paperback- sadly, reading, is a minority interest- a point driven home each time even a successful book is made into a popular film and sales rise accordingly.

Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
The long awaited second novel from the author of ‘The Kite Runner.’ A recent trade blog pointed out the importance of independent bookshops in the world of booksales- i.e. not much- about 5% of some, unnamed bestseller. Trade legend (albeit one promulgated by small shops) has it that we are still vital as a ground for breaking new authors and the Kite Runner is often cited as an example of this- it would be interesting to know if the figures bore this out. Certainly I got the impression that when we were stocking it in 10’s and 20’s (it’s been our bestselling book of the last few years) the chains were barely keeping it face out but that said, they still may have shifted an awful lot more copies than us.

The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters edited by Charlotte Mosley
We have signed copies and if you know the Pan Bookshop you will know why we were very excited to see this published and why it is in our window. If you do not know the Pan Bookshop this is one type of book that defines us – although there are many others.

Jamie at home by Jamie Oliver
We do not, normally, do terribly well with television related titles but cookery books seem to flout this particular rule and here is the latest exception.. I have not really kept up with his most recent books but certainly the recipes in the early ones all worked and he seems a nice bloke- not something that can be said of all cookery books and writers (and before anyone thinks that’s a pop at Ramsey- his recipes are meant to be amongst the best and he’s always been as nice as pie whenever I’ve met him.) I also like the fact he grows his climbing beans over an arch- as we do at home (mind you, we do it through lack of space but I’m sure the effect is just the same)

Exit Music by Ian Rankin
The final Rebus novel. I don’t want to say anything really as whatever I put down might be construed as giving the ending away. I’ll just say I finished it at about 2.00am in the morning with Hawkwind on as background music (yes, you read that correctly) and a nice glass of red wine.

Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book
Does what it says on the cover. Another of our annual favourites.

Blair Years by Alastair Campbell
This has been in our window since publication, by allrights it should be out by now but, firstly, we have to have somewhere to put the signed stock (we got a lot signed but it was worth it) and, secondly, judging from the sales our customers are not bored with it yet so neither should we be. And this from the safest Conservative seat in the country.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
Another ManBooker contender- we also have a sneaking liking for this one as we sold the books at this launch party too, plus, everyone I know who’s read it thinks it’s fab.

The Great Big Glorious Book for Girls by Rosemary Davidson and Sarah Vine
The controversial reply to the hugely successful Dangerous Book for Boys. Many people have complained about it being too girly but it does have tips on how to fall out of a tree so it can’t be all bad.

Restless by William Boyd
Some, many, of our customers think that William Boyd is the best storyteller of his generation. ‘Restless’ is set in Paris, 1939, features a beautiful 28 year-old Russian √©migr√© and should provide the perfect setting for Boyd’s talents.

Hotel de Dream by Edmund White
Edmund White is best known for his non-fiction and his autobiographical novels so this is a sort of departure although a real person, the author Stephen Crane, is at its centre. In Hotel de Dream the imagined author is dictating a new story to his wife, leading White’s publishers to describe the book as ‘a deftly layered novel of longing, both gay and straight.’

Dancing with the Bear: A Serial Entrepreneur goes East by Roger Shashoua
Where a local author of ours (at least he said he was- reading how he promoted his previous book in the opening chapter of this one I’m not sure I really want to test the veracity of this claim) gives us the ‘inside track to making mega-millions in Russia.’ I only took the book as we had done so well with his brothers (at least he said he was…) and I wanted to stay in with him- I also said that although the cover was fine for ‘mass market shops’ it would not go down well here- anyway, we’ve had it 5 weeks and it’s been in our bestsellers for the last 4.

The Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al Aswany
Extremely successful in the Arab world this novel had quite a reputation to live up to when translated into English. Set in a grand old building on a street whose glories were some time ago ‘The Yacoubian Building’ seeks to portray all the social strata of modern Cairo. Pitched somewhere between the Tales of the City and A Fine Balance (now, if you know me you’ll know these are pretty important novels for me) it lacks the sheer playfulness and outrageous use of coincidence to remove any plot obstacle of the former and, I’m afraid it has to be said, brilliance of the latter but retains both novels compelling description of what it is to like live in a modern city. Very fascinating, very enjoyable.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

things you probably shouldn't do coming back from holiday

first day back from hols- a late shift, here at the Pan Bookshop that means 2.00pm till 10.00pm- this was my choice as it would provide a lie-in after the holiday and a gentle easing in back to work. I'm generally home by 11.00 - 11.15pm sometimes in bed by 12.00. Other times I'm not too tired but am very hungry as I was this Monday- also, as straight off my bike, not really in the mood to read- tele seemed a good idea- there wasn't anything on so I hunt around my dvd's and video's and for some bizarre reason decide that the documentary about the making of L.A. Confidential that comes with the video would be perfect- it would have been if I'd left it there but, of course, I couldn't. The film and making of bit run to over 2 hours, I'd started watching it at 11.45.
Trouble is due to illness I end up double-shifting on Tuesday. Get home at 11.15pm but decide that after a 13 hour day what I really need to do is read the new Rebus novel for 2 hours then fall asleep on the sofa but only until my son wakes me at about 1.45am.
Stupidly I am on a late again on Wednesday so miss the football, the only place for me to see the goals is the sky sports channel on Freeview- they don't show it straight away- when they do I'm out of the room and miss one of the goals- I decide to hang on as it will soon be around again- I wake up at about 2.00am on the sofa.

Now, I'm not complaining this was all my own work and a good film, a new book and some fine football are great reasons for staying up till you drop but what you probably shouldn't do coming back from holiday, aside from averaging 4.5 hours sleep per night, is forget that, no longer being on holiday, your partners parents are also no longer with you. If you have kids- you'll know what I mean.

(I should say that kirsty was, very sensibly, asleep by about 11.30 each evening.)

Thursday, September 06, 2007

belgium is a foreign country, they do things differently there ...part 2

for vast swathes of my working life 'would you like a bag?' has been a rhetorical question. It has now become a moral dilemma- I can see some of my customers squirm as they feel they are being put to some kind of test. Not asking or assuming one way or the other is often just as bad- not wanting to put my customers through such hoops- what should a poor bookseller do?
Well, at my local Bruges supermarket it is all sorted out- no dilemma, no squirming- just no bags. You're not offered them, you can't ask for them- they're not there.
Our need for asking for bags was, anyway, almost redundant for two reasons- firstly, we took a rucksack (11 out of 10 smug points) and, secondly, (and this is where Bruges really has turned out to be surprisingly different to beloved old blighty) this pretty small, local supermarket took no cheques and no credit cards except AMERICAN EXPRESS how weird is that (if you're a retailer-pretty weird, if you're not- it may not interest you so much!) and we only just scraped the cash together.


Tuesday, September 04, 2007