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When sales speak volumes: why our bookshops really are here to stay

September 16th, 2017 7:10 AM

By Southern Star Team

Trish Kerr has owned and managed Kerr's book shop in Clonakilty for 25 years, and loves the feel and experience of reading books. (Photo: Paddy Feen)

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Emma Connolly hears how most of us are on the same page – we prefer the physical book to a virtual reality read

 

LOCAL bookshops have seen off the challenge of the digital world and are reporting a post-recession resurgence. 

While the introduction of e-readers and the Kindle a decade ago prompted many to sound the deathknell for the independent bookshop, recent results both for Ireland and the UK speak volumes: ebooks sales are down while consumer spend on  physical books are well up. 

According to the most recent figures from marketing research firm Nielsen in the UK, more than 360 million books were sold there last year, 2 per cent higher than in 2015. There was a 4 per cent rise in sales in actual shops while ebook sales fell by 4 per cent, the second year in a row sales declined.

Everything points to the fact that the book – and book shop – is fashionable. 

Trish Kerr, who has owned and managed Kerr’s book shop in Clonakilty for the past 25 years, says she still loves the tactile feel and experience of reading books.

‘Even in the early days of introduction and excitement of electronic devices, surprisingly the Kindle or other similar products had very little impact on sales turnover at Kerr’s,’ she said. 

Their customers acknowledged that they liked the convenience of downloading e-books, but in Kerr’s experience, the majority of them preferred the pleasure of holding and reading books in their hands.

Trish also feels her customers seem to value the experience of visiting her shop, where they can relax and browse over the stock, chat about various titles and engage with her three staff.

Cathal O’Donovan, of Skibbereen Bookshop, is on the same page, and feels that people will always have an organic affinity and connection with paper as opposed to a machine. 

‘There’s an intimacy with paper. Books will always be part of man’s fibre,’ said Cathal who has been in business for 36 years. 

Cathal actually sells e-books but says they haven’t had an enquiry for one ‘in years.’

‘We thought it was going to pull the feet out from everyone, but it didn’t. People are coming to bookshops seeking information – and are coming away satisfied with their new purchase.’

He feels strongly about fostering a love of reading among young children and says his ‘Young Adult’ section is popular and he praises the work done in primary schools to encourage a love of reading. 

Young readers and teenagers also represent a sizeable segment of Kerr’s Bookshop customers. 

Trish says that young people in particular are buying and reading books, many with the strong encouragement of their parents.

Regarding retail giants like Amazon, both Trish and Cathal remain philosophical: ‘They’re a multi global corperation – we’re a bookshop at the side of the street: we’ll battle away,’ said Cathal. 

Trish added:  ‘Advertising budgets of online sales platforms has increased market awareness, sales penetration and the overall spend on leisure and pleasure reading. In effect, online sales budgets by the multinationals helped to advertise and promote higher book sales volumes and introduced or reintroduced reading for so many.’ 

Many readers actually use online sales facilities as a research tool and then frequently come into her shop to purchase and/or to place book orders.

All agree the allure of books is something that’s being appreciated once again. 

Unquestionably, books are more beautifully presented now, says Trish. Cathal says they make a home feel warm – with Gerry Fitzgerald of Bandon Books describing them as being ‘back’ in fashion. 

He says he regularly encounters customers who have already read their purchase on their Kindle – but also wanted a physical copy of it. 

Manager of Coughlan’s Books in Clonakilty, Finbarr Coughlan, agreed the personal service and recommendations they offer are what keep customers coming back. 

All business owners agree the season has been a good one – largely due to the Wild Atlantic Way. 

Cathal says, guardedly, things are picking up: ‘By February 2015 things had flattened out;  in February 2016 we had turned a corner and in  February 2017 we were still going around that corner.’

The Wild Atlantic Way has definitely helped business, he says, recalling two Germans who bought a coffee table book from him some weeks back having driven the route from Donegal.  

Margaret O’Neill, owner of Bantry Books, said as well as the WAW, the town’s literary festival had positive knock-on effects for her business which has been in existence for over 14 years.

Summer trade in Kerr’s Bookshop this year was also especially busy.

Trish said a lot of it was thanks to the efforts of their ‘extraordinary community promoting their town and the reputation earned over the year as a great tourist destination.’

‘The efforts of the Tidy Towns Committee, the Clonakilty Chamber of Commerce, the branding of the Wild Atlantic Way, the accreditation of Clonakilty as Europe’s Best Small Town and many, many other community-based awards, local and national media and press attention and coverage. has all helped hugely to enhance the town’s reputation as a colourful, friendly and beautiful holiday destination.’

Kerr’s will celebrate their 25th anniversary in business this November and the future looks bright. 

Trish said: ‘There is no question that the local bookshop is enjoying a renaissance and has established itself as both contributor and generator of footfall in the retail mix of evermore competitive retailing in our Irish towns and communities.’

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