International Booksellers Conference (IBSC), organised by Sharjah Book Authority (SBA) in conjunction with the ongoing 13th Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival (SCRF), discussed unique ways booksellers can grow their businesses in an increasingly digital world.
At the debut edition of the conference, held at the SBA headquarters, a four-member panel discussed ways to improve bookselling in 2022 and beyond at a session titled, Digital, E-commerce & social media. Moderated by Kuo-yu Liang, a publishing M&A and Business Development Advisor from the US, the session also offered insights on strategies to convert followers on social media channels into potential customers.
In a discussion with Nana Awere Damoah, cofounder of Booknook.store, an online book store from Ghana that was founded five years ago, she stressed the importance of creating a good customer experience on your site – from providing searchable, well-indexed metadata on authors, publishers, and categories to allow shoppers to make an informed buying decision.
Adedotun Eyinade, co-founder and CEO of Rovingheights Bookstore, which has three retail outlets in two Nigerian cities, stated that his approach in creating strong social media footprints and optimising social media accounts to deepen off-line engagements has ensured that 30 percent of his bookstore’s monthly revenue come from social media channels. With 52,000 followers on Instagram and 19,000 on Twitter, key data analytics mined from the bookstore’s social media handles are further helping to inform, engage and connect with followers, and drive sales and traffic to the website, he added.
The powerful role of social media marketing to promote the business was reinforced by Mohamed Kandil, CEO of UAE-based Dar Molhimon Publishing and Distribution, who also highlighted the need to elicit insights from social media algorithms to analyse and understand consumer behaviour, boost brand awareness, build traffic, and reach target audiences. He also cited the importance of video content in boosting sales and discussed how future buyers and vendors could be targeted through social media stories.
The global phenomenon of BookTok, a growing subcommunity that focuses on books and literature on TikTok, was explored by Giorgia Russo, a Social Media Specialist at La Feltrinelli Internet Bookshop in Italy, who urged conference participants to build up a strong social media presence. Citing the increasing popularity of video content on social media, the young professional explained that with two billion downloads in the first quarter of 2020, the TikTok platform offers plenty of room for future growth and the opportunity for bookstore brands to grow with it.
“Every single visitor is a potential customer,” said Russo, urging booksellers to offer dedicated and exclusive content to nurture their growing community on BookTok and drive sales.
Elevating the book-buying experience
The role of ‘Stock Curation, Presentation and Customer Service’ as key ingredients in driving book sales in bookshops was highlighted at the second panel discussion, moderated by Simon Littlewood, International Publishing Consultant. The panel shared key learnings on how well curated and presented stock and trained staff can enhance the book buying experience for consumers and improve the commercial success of bookshops.
Peter Kacmar, Sales Director of Ikar, the largest publishing house in Slovakia, described how the consignment model – where only books that are sold get invoiced – have taken the financial strain off booksellers across the country. Stressing the increasing importance of trained staff in driving sales, he called for greater in-store events with authors, special readings, and launch sessions to bring back loyal customers who have shifted to shopping on e-stores following the pandemic.
A consultant with Books Kinokuniya, Singapore, Kenny Chan, emphasized how the brand’s core values – creating opportunities for cultural exchange – continue to draw audiences into its stores worldwide, which are also tailored to each region’s history, language, and culture. Stocking a wide range of books across genres, having well-trained customer service professionals, and offering excellent quality of service are other key factors essential to boosting sales, he added.
Although the challenges in retail bookselling have not abated over the decades, the attraction of physical stores cannot be denied, stated Remi Morgan, CEO of Nigeria-based Laterna Ventures. “The personalised and qualitative customer service provided by experienced and knowledgeable frontliners; the unique atmosphere and ambience in retail stores; the ability to browse and review a wider range of material; and hosting of special events such as author interactions continue to make bookstores fascinating destinations even today,” he said.
“A traditional bookstore is no longer an attractive place for shopping; instead, we have to offer added value to our services and offer an individual approach to our customers,” said Sonia Draga, who runs four independent bookstores in Poland. Discussing how individually each of the four stores are curated, Draga said that the outlet in Katowice, located close to the mountains and to a university, offers stocks books, stationery and gadgets that appeal to the student community while the outlet in Warsaw, offers a selection of books and non-book goods for more sophisticated and demanding customers, and even has a dedicated area for pets.
International bookselling trends
Analysing the trends of 2021 in her keynote address on ‘The International Bookselling Market’, Jasmina Kanuric of European & International Booksellers Federation (EIBF), said: “The pandemic has reshaped the global bookselling industry and is today marked by unequitable growth across different channels, and we are increasingly seeing an adaptation to new business models, shifts in consumer behaviour, and rise of the audio book market, among others.”
In 2021, the largest growth in the industry was seen in digital sales and streaming services and physical stores remained impacted. The industry’s future opportunities are in scaling digital presence, creating pipelines of events, and fostering local partnerships developed through the pandemic, she said.