Eighteen months ago the President of the Booksellers Association, Jane Streeter, was talking to the head of Random House, Gail Rebuck, about the challenges facing bookshops on the British high street.
After several minutes Gail decided to phone a friend, well not just any old friend, a friend who had co-founded the world’s largest advertising agency: Maurice Saatchi. She asked for his help to come up with ideas for a campaign that would raise the profile of bookshops, a campaign that had no budget! He allocated his most senior team at M & C Saatchi to the project and they have designed an ad campaign that is going to involve over 300,000 people in the UK.
The campaign begins on 14th September and it is a very simple concept; bookshops throughout the UK & Ireland give away 300,000 bags on Saturday 14th September. Bags which carry the slogan “Books Are My Bag” and these same people walk around with the bags to promote the message.
For sure a “bag” won’t save high street bookshops, no more than one drop of rain creates a reservoir. For too long there’s been a negativity and despondent aura around high street bookshops and at times an almost resigned attitude to Amazon’s dominance of bookselling. It is important for the book trade, authors, and society in general that an Amazon alternative is promoted in a positive and fresh way to the book buying public, Books Are My Bag is such a campaign.
The Books Are My Bag campaign aims is to show that books (and where they are bought) are important in our lives and that they have played a huge part in shaping us into being the people that we are today. Consumers will be encouraged to buy books, and yes they could buy online, however all high street bookshops can engage with the campaign and ensure that book buyers know there is a serious alternative to buying online and it’s right on their doorstep, even open 24/7.
The Books Are My Bag campaign won’t save every high street bookshop in Great Britain and Ireland and I don’t believe that any movement could now do that. Its aim is to remind old and new book lovers that the physical presence of bookshops on the high street is important to our communities. It’s a place where you’ll discover new reads, it’s a place where you might be reminded of old books you never got around to reading, but always wanted to, it’s place you can talk to real people about your likes and dislikes.
“The Bag” is a key element in the marketing strategy by being the on-the-street component that will work in partnership with the PR campaign 300,000 walking adverts out on the high streets reminding people about books backed by PR campaign with celebrities from all walks of life, reminding everyone of the pleasure of making a buying a book and where better to do it than on your own high street.
Does this mean that high street bookshops will see a huge upturn in book sales, probably not? Will it save high street bookshops that are already under threat from high rent/rates increases; a new supermarket moving in next door or one that is a declining shopping area, sadly not? So what might it do? The hope is that it will pull the thoughts of buying books back to the centre of customers, lives, make them consider where they buy their books, and revive thoughts of the pleasures of going into bookshops.
No one is pretending that this campaign push back the tide of change; eBooks are already “big” and a threat to high street bookshops that selling the print version. The launch in September by Book Tokens Ltd of the independent booksellers eBookshop website, makes it possible for book buyers to buy eBooks (very easily) and also support their local bookshop 24/7. High Street bookshops owners should not expect charity. They have a responsibility to run a business that is attractive to the customer and that means, being knowledgeable about their products, offer excellent customer services and be a better experience than the shopping online.
The independent bookshops that are surviving in today’s market are doing just that, adapting, innovating and changing. Did anyone think a few years ago that a deli would be thought of as a section in a bookshop as it is with Mainstreet Books in St Boswells or that each month a bookshop would become the town’s cinema as it is in Frinton with Caxton Books?
Support Books Are My Bag by visiting and purchasing a book from the local bookshops of South London, or anywhere for that matter, pick up your bag on 14 September and become a walking advert for high street bookshops.
*images thanks to Books Are My Bag website