Pop-up stores for Christmas

HMV has announced that they’ll be opening around 20 pop-up shops this Christmas.

Pop-ups have been a part of our lives for some long time.  They tend to fulfil one of two functions:

  • Selling seasonal goods
  • Creating a point of focus for a high fashion/high PR brand, typically in an up-and-coming location eg Shoreditch

The seasonal goods market has been principally identified with Christmas – calendars, decorations, and gift products like perfume.

As online retailers pick up a greater proportion of our everyday spend, there is a logic in HMV’s move that could be emulated in other sectors.  Pop-up bookshops, toy shops, electricals stores etc would be a rational development, as the high price of occupancy, staff etc makes year-round trade less supportable.

Too many retail sectors only make money at Christmas – so why trade through the remainder of the year, if customer loyalty to bricks and mortar can no longer be guaranteed?

Food for thought…

Calendar Club

Ewan Morrison at the Edinburgh International Book Festival

There appears to be much apocalyptic talk in Edinburgh this year.  I’m in London, so I’m reliant on The Guardian copiously recording all the key events.  Ewan Morrison discusses a “bleak vision of a publishing industry in terminal decline“, which won’t help to cheer up a wet, end-of-summer Tuesday afternoon – but if you haven’t read these arguments, you should now.  Are books dead?  Can authors survive?

The comments merit closer scrutiny than usual, because they run the full range of opinions, argued passionately.  Somebody called Joe McCann opines as follows:

I think publishers are in far more trouble than they imagine. The change is not going to happen in a generation, we’re talking months.

The biggest Christmas gift last year was the Kindle. The average person is a little slow, but they catch on. Once they figure out how they can get any book they want for free, they’ll never pay for another one. Out of curiosity (not really criminality), a few months back I downloaded a few book bundles from Pirate Bay. I now have in my possession something like 30,000 books. You can get anything. People assemble the entire New York Times best seller list and you can download it in a few minutes.

What we’re about to see is the catastrophic collapse of the publishing industry. We’re literally talking a few financial quarters away from all our bookshops being shuttered up. We’ll be left with soulless mobile phone shops.

Good books, music, film, are essential to the quality of our lives. Without them, or with poor substitutes, our lives are a lot poorer.

I spent a delightful thirty minutes in Richmond-upon-Thames’s excellent Open Book shop this afternoon.  A small, corridor-shaped space packed to the rafters with interesting books, new and old.  I don’t doubt that Richmond will be able to sustain The Open Book for a while yet, perhaps for longer than it can Waterstone’s, but as I riffled through book after delightful book, I did wonder if we really knew what we were doing, laying waste to all these welcoming places, full of such good, valuable and important things.

The foolishness of not buying from Amazon

Thanks to the magic of Twitter, I stumbled on this recording from BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this afternoon:


Arts Correspondent Will Gompertz talks to Penguin’s John Makinson, The Bookseller’s Neill Denny and blogger Adrian Hon about the impact of digitisation on books and publishing.  It’s an interesting listen, but the element that has stuck with me is the vox pop half way through, wherein we hear from a Foyle’s customer, interviewed on the Charing Cross Road pavement.

To paraphrase, she says that she was passing Foyle’s, and loves it, but normally of course she’d buy her books on Amazon, because of the price saving.  This is very matter of fact; Amazon and the bookshop are no longer occupying the same mental space for this consumer.  Amazon is the obvious, default place to buy a book – indeed, it’s almost perverse to go into a bookshop, but an occasional mad fling is OK.  Thus the bookshop moves from an inclusive place for everyone who enjoys browsing and buying books, to the equivalent of an expensive boutique, or fancy cake shop- maybe you’ll go in there for a guilty indulgence, but it doesn’t make financial or any other kind of sense to visit too often.  (And of course, she isn’t shopping at “an online bookshop”, she’s shopping at what might as well be  “the only online bookshop”.)

I may be extrapolating a little too much from a snatched moment on-mike, but those who consume books, rather than fetishising bookshops, are likely to be thinking more and more in this way.

Which in turn supports the appearance of the Assouline shop inside Liberty on Great Marlborough Street.  Like all department stores, Liberty used to have an eclectic book department which reflected its clientèle and their interests.  There are still some gift books on tables here and there elsewhere in the store, but Assouline provides the mad fling or naughty treat – with prices from around £20 to hundreds of pounds.  I like the Assouline offer, and I thought their second-hand section (branded “Vintage”, like a classic Yves St Laurent frock, and priced accordingly) was very cleverly done.  But Liberty customers, like the woman outside Foyle’s, will get their bread-and-butter books (physical or digital) from Amazon.  The book as a collectible or an extravagance, rather than a staple, moves another step closer.

Assouline photo: http://www.assouline.com