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       


OPPORTUNITIES THROUGH INDEPENDENT BOOKSHOPS AND DIGITAL CHANNELS The impact that independent booksellers can have was hailed a number of times, in particular for débuts and/or books that might appear too small for the bigger retailers. A person in sales (senior, white, female) describes indies as “intrepid and very keen to search out new things”, and it seems as if indies absolutely need to do something different in terms of selection as they cannot compete on price. Several respondents atributed the impact indies can have to their clout and potential to start a certain “buzz” around a book. Thus, indies have an indirect impact on the bookselling landscape as bigger retailers tend to order more copies once a book’s profile has grown, as several respondents stated.


BOOKSHOPS: EXCLUSIVE WHITE, MIDDLE-CLASS SPACES? One challenge that bricks-and-mortar bookshops seem to face is that they can feel exclusive to non-white, non-middle-class people. One bookseller (senior, white, female) suspects that the location of the bookshops already has an impact on the customers: “Bookshops, by necessit, are oſten in affluent parts of the country. So you got a skewed demographic, immediately”. But even in areas in which the population has a demographic of which more than 50% is BAME, bookshops’ staff and audiences tend to be white. Supermarkets, on the other hand, have the potential to reach


customers in every location and social category, but they stock only a limited selection of books, i.e. bestselling titles with a great track record, which are dominated by white authors. Adding to this problem is that publishers need supermarkets because of the large volume they can sell once they choose a title. So it becomes self-perpetuating: supermarkets want to see high sales numbers before they stock a book, and if they don’t stock a book, it is really hard to reach such a wide audience in the first place.


While some respondents spoke about opportunities in digital sales channels and formats, they also emphasised that a certain level of visibilit must be atained first. The main obstacle here seems to be rooted in the assumption that BAME books are a riskier investment, and thus oſten receive less publicit and marketing budget (see Promoting Writers of Colour, p08). In terms of formats that can be sold directly online, audiobooks and e-books were repeatedly mentioned as a way to appeal to different target groups who might not shop in bricks-and-mortar stores. Exemplary for a number of other comments is the following quote from a white, senior saleswoman: “we tend to see a big BAME audience coming towards our audio. So that has been a real sort of focus for us, and e-books as well, because digital reading tends to be a younger demographic and also a BAME audience”.


CONCLUDING REMARKS


The dominance of a few retailers, and the decision-making by very few people, combined with reliance on data that is not as objective as it is oſten portrayed, is seen as a major obstacle for writers of colour. In particular, where so much power lies in so few hands, a more diverse team can be game-changing. The whiteness of sales, book buying and retail spaces and personnel, or rather their unconscious bias, raised concerns as well. And while digital channels can be a way to bypass exclusive spaces and gatekeepers, more investment in publicit is needed to make BAME authors and their books visible at the same time.


     


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