The one-day digital conference explored development perspectives of the book industry
On Wednesday, 24 February, booksellers, authors, publishers, policymakers and experts from across the book sector gathered for the second iteration of the European Book Forum – Assises européennes du Livre. After a year of pandemic and several lockdowns, the one-day conference assessed the contrasting situations that emerged in different European countries, the practices born out of the crisis, and the opportunities that will allow for a continuous and sustainable development of the book chain.
Together with the Syndicat des librairies francophones de Belgique (SLFB), the European and International Booksellers Federation co-organised a dedicated panel on bookstores. During the panel, booksellers from across Europe discussed how bookshops can improve their resilience to crises, while retaining their community spirit and boost their digital presence.
The event was organised under the umbrella of the Brussels Book Fair, in partnership with the European Commission. It took place online, with multiple panel discussions, which were simultaneously translated into English, French, Dutch, and German.
We share our impressions of the panels below, spotlighting the booksellers’ perspectives from a panel on improving bookshop resilience through time and crises, and a panel on sustainability activities from across the book chain.
Re-watch the event here.
The place of the bookshop in its community or on the internet: how does the bookshop stand the test of time and crises?
Whether it is through a group of citizens or booksellers, the bookshop draws its strength from the community. It has done so before the crisis we are experiencing and will continue to do so in the future. The bookshop's resilience often comes from the collective, from associations of people with a common interest.
In her presentation, Tracy Kenny highlighted how community can come together to save a local bookshop from closing. The Kett’s cooperative bookshop has been run by a team of 20 volunteers ever since 2013, and is set up as a community bookshop. All members have an equal vote, and this poses both an opportunity and a challenge: all members have to agree on all actions. “We have to work closely together, but that’s what volunteers enjoy,” said Tracy. Throughout the pandemic, the Kett’s cooperative bookshop managed to keep in touch with it customers and volunteer staff. Everyone helped in a different way, from taking orders on the phone to picking up books and storing them at their homes as needed. Resources and skills were pulled together, allowing everyone to play a part.
There are six or seven other community bookshops in the UK, according to Tracy, with whom they keep in touch. The UK Booksellers Association has put together a guide explaining just how to set one up.
Another innovative project comes from Spain, where an online platform Todos Tus Libros offers independent bookshops an opportunity to reach customers via their digital sales platform. Many small and/or independent bookshops, struggle to establish or maintain a digital store. Participating on Todos Tus Libros gives bookshops this much needed digital exposure. At the same time, “when customers buy a book online, the money goes directly, without commission, to a chosen store,” said Jesús Trueba on the collaborative relationship with the platform. Describing his own personal experience from his bookshop on the platform, Jesús sees the greatest strength of the platform in supporting independent bookshops and local commerce in a viable way – one that also allows stores full control over their communications with customers.
A similar platform was recently created in Belgium, where 57 French-speaking independent bookshops gathered to develop Librel. The Librel project has been ongoing for many years, but it was the first lockdown in Belgium that gave the ultimate push to officially launch it. The platform, that went online right before the second Belgian lockdown, offers one additional feature to customers: by clicking on a given book title, you can see various formats this book is available in (be it printed book, audio book or e-book). It also gives a customer an option to see the closest bookshop where they can buy the chosen title in a given format. Librel doesn’t yet include an integrated online payment system for physical books. Instead, customers pick the book they want to buy, reserve it at the bookshop of their choice, and proceed to pay in person when collecting the book at the bookshop. Personal relationships are key to keep independent bookshops growing, according to Philippe Goffe, and “we are keen to keep the contact between the customers and the booksellers, which this platform enables”.
• Tracy Kenny, Director and shop manager at Kett's Book cooperative bookshop, a community bookshop run by volunteers in Norfolk (Great Britain)
• Jesús Trueba, La Buena Vida bookshop in Madrid. Bookseller user of the Todos Tus Libros platform (Spain)
• Philippe Goffe, creator of LIBREL, online sales portal for independent French-speaking Belgian booksellers (Belgium)
• Moderator: Nicolas Becquet (Journalist at the Belgian newspaper l’Echo)
Towards eco-responsibility: new initiatives in the book sector
Ecological responsibility is a hot topic for many actors in the book chain - although it could be more so, especially in practice. Compared to ten years ago, we have emerged from an opposition between paper publishing versus digital publishing, the latter being once considered potentially the most virtuous.
Printing, circulation, transport - it is the whole sector that takes initiative. Whether the book is consumed on paper or on screen, today’s ecological innovation has developed and comes from new sources and avenues, inspired by other sectors, such as the French associations of local farmers, which trying to keep the agricultural sector alive.
While sustainability is a topic currently very high on the agenda in the publishing industry, it is certainly not a new subject. For the past 15 years, publishers have been talking about ways to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The book industry is often perceived to be quite a polluter, raising questions on printing, circulation, and transport of books.
However, there is a novelty in sustainable publishing – dealing not with publishing of books on sustainability, but actually fostering sustainable publishing in practice. A new online bookshop in France, AMAP Livr&Co aims to bring together on one platform all the eco-designed books by partnering with eco-responsible publishers. Every book featured contains information on it has been produced and manufactured, thus making customers feel more confident in their purchase. “It starts with obtaining the raw materials and ends with selling of books; we want to act as go-between those two points to ensure books are produced in a way that support local economy with the least environmental strain,” Charles Hédouin described the mission of the platform he co-founded last year. At the moment, AMAP Livr&Co works with around 20 publishing houses across France to deliver on their mission.
On the other hand, Barbora Baronová, founder of the independent publishing house WO-MEN Publishing, explored the themes of ‘slow publishing’. Her company aims to approach book publishing from an ecological point of view, producing only a handful of books a year. “We spend weeks looking for and sourcing paper, for example, that has all the ecological certifications. We also focus on books that bring diversifying voices into the market, as giving space to these topics is very important,” said Barbara.
• Charles Hédouin, co-founder of AMAP Livr&Co (France)
• Barbora Baronová, Founder of the independent publishing house WO-MEN Publishing (Czech Republic)
• Mathijs Suidman, Commercial Director of Media Distribution, Centraal Boekhuis (The Netherlands)
• Moderator: Cécile Charonnat (Trade magazine Livres Hebdo) (France)
The panels will soon be available for replay on the Book Fair's Youtube channel, and their reports will be published from 5 March, every Friday, on the lettresnumeriques.be website.