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UK Publishers and Booksellers Collaborate on Shadowing Scheme

By Olivia Snaije

As publishers struggle to reinvent themselves and UK booksellers campaign to save bookshops — in the past seven years 2,000 bookshops have closed — a joint initiative between the Publishers Association (PA) and the Booksellers Association (BA) is underway in the form a shadowing scheme.

Meryl Halls, head of membership of the Booksellers Association, which represents over 95% of the specialist booksellers in the UK and Ireland, said that the idea evolved following the Booksellers Conference in 2011 “which focused on collaboration.”

Last November, both associations announced their Professional Shadowing Scheme that would allow publishers and booksellers to shadow each other for at least a day or more; booksellers could meet the staff at publishing companies and would attend sales, marketing and acquisitions meetings while publishers would experience ordering books as well as dealing with customers.

The publishers that are involved in the project include Little, Brown, Penguin, Dorling Kindersley, Profile, Simon & Schuster, Canongate, Macmillan Children’s Books, Harlequin Mills & Boon, and Random House. Booksellers participating so far are Mabecron Books, Jaffé and Neale, The New Bookshop, Victoria Park Books, Kenilworth Books, Dulwich Books and the Children’s Bookshop. Some have already begun testing the scheme.

“We are hoping to gain some real benefits for booksellers from working more closely with publishers,” said Meryl Halls. “There’s no substitute for seeing a colleague’s reality, and how you fit into it, and some real creative thinking is bound to flow from these meetings.”

Canongate has been especially supportive, with 40% of the company participating in the program, which it has dubbed the “bookseller buddying scheme.”

Canongate Sales and Marketing Director Jenny Todd will partner with BA President Jane Streeter of The Bookcase in Nottingham as her “buddy.” Canongate Managing Director, Jamie Byng, is paired with Nic Bottomley of Mr. B’s Emporium in Bath, and 15 other members of staff are paired with a range of booksellers across the UK, including Patrick Neale of Jaffé and Neale, Ros De La Hay of The Main Street Bookshop and Sheila O’Reilly of The Dulwich Bookshop.

For her part, Todd encouraged fellow Canongate staff members to take part, telling them that there was no time commitment, so being busy shouldn’t put them off. “You can choose to build the relationship as you see fit — spending a day working together, bouncing ideas around, getting feedback on what’s selling, favorite books…whatever feels useful to both parties,” she said.

The BA’s Jane Streeter has already participated one in a buddy scheme earlier this year. “The idea of booksellers and publishers shadowing each other is such a positive one, and I’m convinced it will lead to a better understanding of the roles we all play in our shared industry,” she said. “The more avenues of communication we can open up at all levels, the more successful we will be at creating sustainable initiatives. We are an industry of words — we should talk to each other more and share our skills. My own experience of ‘buddying’ with Becky Hardie at Chatto has been incredibly positive and I would urge all booksellers and publishers to embrace this idea. It could lead to so many mutually beneficial conversations and projects.”

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