With booksellers around the world, including countries such as Morocco, India, Singapore, Slovakia, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, Italy, Nigeria, Poland, Ghana and the Emirates Arab States, the first Sharjah booksellers’ conference began on May 16. atrium of Sharjah Publishing City, delegates were welcomed by Ahmed Al Amari of the Sharjah Book Authority, who initiated this new event.
Monday’s keynote was delivered by Bodour Al-Qasimi, founder of Kalimat Publishing Group and president of the International Association of Publishers, who praised the “great job” that booksellers are doing to find creative ways to to engage readers and put books in their hands. She continued, “Your efforts have become even more urgent in the face of the ever-changing needs and behaviors of readers, as well as the growing digital distractions in everyday life. And my message to all of our bookstore friends here and around the world is that you are not alone. Publishers will support you in this mission, and we will achieve this goal together.
The first roundtable saw booksellers from the Middle East, Africa and Europe discuss effective digital communication, e-commerce and social media strategies. Nana Awere Damoah from Booknook in Ghana recommended bi-monthly emails and daily updates on all social media channels, as well as frequent stock checks and data analysis to anticipate demand. “Data doesn’t make sense,” he said, “unless you interpret it.” The importance of up-to-date mailing lists and rigorous data analysis was reiterated by Mohamed Kandil of Molhimon Publishing and Distribution in the United Arab Emirates, who also touted the effectiveness of video content and implemented a TikTok strategy. .
Adedotun Eyinade, from Roving Heights in Nigeria, originally established as an online bookstore in 2015 and later as a physical store in 2018, said Instagram was the most profitable social media channel for his business, followed by Twitter, while noting that TikTok—and especially BookTok—was growing rapidly. Working with online influencers to offer customers something special, as well as to reach non-bookstore consumers, the store makes extensive use of user-generated content and features online and offline events.
LaFeltrinelli Internet Bookshop’s Giorgia Russo – teleported from Italy due to an enforced absence by Covid – agreed Instagram was the number one channel for influencers, but warned it had now become very crowded. Instead, she relied more and more on TikTok, a channel that had grown exponentially over the past two years, but has plenty of room for growth. His advice to booksellers was to create a unique presence by delivering exclusive content and special offers, making subscribers feel loved, and then turning them into customers. “If it’s fun for you, others will find it fun too,” she said.
The second panel, with speakers from the Far East, Europe and Africa, looked at inventory retention, presentation and customer service. In Slovenia, said Peter Kacmar of Ikar, bookstores have taken stock of consignment. The market was small and dominated by two major players, one physical, the other online, but there were challenges due to a lack of consensus on how to categorize titles by genre. Here as elsewhere, the Covid crisis had resulted in a growth in book sales which mainly benefited e-tailers.
Kenny Chan of Kinokuniya in Singapore has tackled the challenge of creating a cohesive brand with stores in many different countries: currently 72 in Japan, 20 in the United States, three in Thailand and Taiwan, two in Singapore and the United Arab Emirates and one in Malaysia. , Australia, Cambodia, Indonesia and Myanmar. “The history, geography and culture of the locality play a major role in the atmosphere of the store and the stock holding,” he said, while being multicultural and true to the company’s Japanese roots. . As stock is sourced locally, the quality and recruitment of staff was extremely important, with training provided in Singapore, where they “brainwash managers into the Kinokuniya ethos”. The importance of training was also key for Remi Morgan of Laterna Ventures in Nigeria, where his company offered in-house training programs with exams to check the product knowledge and communication skills of their booksellers.
Sonia Draga, of the eponymous chain of Polish bookstores, said she tried to offer a point of difference for each branch. The Warsaw store, for example, offers a dog watch service and “emergency gift booking” on social media at Christmas. The Katowice store offers board game book clubs and organizes charity events, the most recent being to support Ukraine, while the Chorzow branch has a Czech beer specialization and weekly author events and the shop in Gliwice publishes quotes from books on a board daily. , complete with customer illustrations.
The morning sessions ended with Jasmina Kanuric from the European and International Booksellers Federation reviewing the results of the May 2021 EIBF report on the impact of Covid on book sales in 2020, based on data from 25 countries around the world. Half of these countries have seen an overall decline in book sales, with bookstores in 88% of them having closed at least once during the pandemic. All had seen some sort of government support for their business, while a third had received government assistance specifically aimed at booksellers.
In the event of further closures, the EIBF will push for bookstores to be classified as essential retailers, as they were in Italy, France and Spain in 2020, to enable them to remain open for business.
An earlier version of this article appeared in BookBrunch.