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Marketing and the bookselling

Current strategy and the managers


Audrey Laing and Jo Royle

Department of Communication and Publishing, Aberdeen Business School,
The Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, UK
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to identify current marketing initiatives undertaken by UK
chain booksellers and analyses them in the context of established retailing and marketing theory.
Thus, established scholarly theory is being examined in a novel research setting.
Design/methodology/approach The paper includes evidence and findings from semi-structured,
in-depth interviews with various book trade experts working at different levels within the trade.
Findings Focusing on the strategies behind the chains marketing techniques, the paper
concentrates in particular upon the new emphasis by UK chains upon serving a wider clientele and
their efforts to establish individual identities and be community responsive. This has resulted in a
re-emphasis both upon customer service and on the relationship between bookseller and customer.
New developments in the facilities to be found in chain bookshops, such as coffee shops and the
proliferation of sofas and browsing areas are analysed as to their contribution to bookshop
Originality/value This research is both timely, responding to calls from the trade for research and
original, given the dearth of research on the book trade. The findings are examined within the context
of academic theory in related fields, such as retailing, marketing and consumer behaviour. As such,
findings from this highly original research are relevant both for the trade and for the wider academic
community regarding their application and consideration in other scholarly settings.
Keywords Bookselling, Marketing, Brands, Marketing strategy, Lifestyles, United Kingdom
Paper type Research paper

International Journal of Retail &

Distribution Management
Vol. 34 No. 3, 2006
pp. 198-211
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/09590550610654366

The role of bookshops in UK society has developed dynamically since the early 1980s.
Since the inception of the eponymous Waterstones bookshops in 1982, the rise and rise
of the new chains with knowledgeable staff and stylish interiors has influenced the
development of bookshops into destination stores. These have taken inspiration from
the US concept of lifestyle bookselling and all the facilities associated with that term,
such as coffee shops and sofas (Kreitzman, 1999; Pennington, 1997). The publics
changing expectations of what a bookshop should be, as well as an economic need for
the chains to attract new markets, has led to a reassessment of the marketing and
branding strategies adopted by chain bookshops. A particular focus on extending the
bookshop environment so as to appeal to all sectors of the community has led to many
chains tailoring the titles they stock and the publicity material used, in order to be
particularly relevant to their local community. The need to be community responsive is
seen as an integral strategy to enable bookshops to appeal to a wider market,
particularly those people who may not even have visited bookshops before. Increased

competition between chains, independents and now online bookshops and

supermarkets has also had the effect of concentrating chain efforts regarding those
basic qualities integral to every good bookshop, such as range, tidiness and customer
service. The concept of customer service in particular is being stretched to cover newer
strategies such as hand selling the one-to-one service and advice given to
individual customers by booksellers which focuses on individual customer needs and
offers advice and suggestions.
In order to understand in more detail the strategy behind these changes in
marketing, it is important that a more detailed study of marketing and branding in the
particular context of bookselling is undertaken. Key strategies are identified and
examined in the context of established retail theory. This paper includes findings from
in-depth interviews carried out with managers of UK chain bookshops (some with links
to the US) and analyses their respective companies strategies on branding and
Rationale and objectives
While it is possible to form an overall impression of current strategic procedures within
UK chain booksellers by undertaking a reading of trade journals on the subject, such as
The Bookseller, academic research specifically on the book trade is rather limited
(Stallard, 1999; Pennington, 1997; Royle et al., 1999; Royle and Stockdale, 2000).
However, research on online bookselling is becoming more established (Hennessey,
2000; Gardiner, 2002; Clay et al., 2002).
The lack of research into the book trade can be understood by seeing that
historically the book trade has been absorbed into the context of the larger retail
environment. Historically, the book trade has been reactive rather than proactive in
many of its business decisions, but if there has been a lack of clear strategically led
planning in the past, bookshops would certainly not be alone amongst the business
community in concentrating on other more commercially immediate aspects of trading
(Gilbert, 2003). This is gradually changing, due to the competitive nature of the current
market; a more professional or commercial approach to bookselling and also because
of the influx of retail experts to the book trade from other retail sectors which have
historically been seen as more dynamic. The competitive nature of the book industry as
it is currently in the UK has led to the implementation of many of the changes outlined
above and it has become necessary to respond to the calls from within the trade for
research (Watson, 2002).
Research findings from this project have been underpinned and firmly placed in an
academic context by considering theory from the areas of marketing, branding, strategy
and consumer behaviour in the specific field of book retailing. Research undertaken in
the context of bookselling has made clear that a sound understanding of these topics
would be essential. Key texts such as Kotler (1996), Gilbert (2003), McGoldrick (2002),
Solomon (2002) and Thompson (2001) form part of the foundation for this exploratory
research, but perhaps the most crucial aspect of the review of literature is how the two
areas of reading, i.e. trade and scholarly, sit with each other, or how the theory from
established writers in the field (such as those above) can be applied and considered in
the context of retail bookselling. Therefore, the key aims of this paper are to:
establish key marketing and branding tools used in UK chain bookshops;
determine the strategy behind the implementation of these tools; and

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consider these marketing strategies in a scholarly context of established

academic theory.

Given the dearth of academic research within the book trade, each of these steps is
important in expanding knowledge of the book trade and is useful for both academics
and practitioners alike.


Methodological approach
Chain bookshops were selected for the research as it was envisaged that due to the
nature of the organisation and internal structuring, these were the UK bookshops most
likely to have an established marketing history, marketing strategy and future plans.
In order to establish current marketing strategy and identify marketing tools used in
UK bookselling, semi-structured, in-depth interviews were carried out with various
book trade experts working in, or for three UK chain bookshops. The four interviewees
selected represented various levels within the selected bookshops (two store managers,
one marketing manager and one chain marketing director) but in each case were aware
of, current strategic information such as weekly marketing plans, future strategy for
discussion and current problems. With the exception of the marketing director, each
interviewee was in a position to facilitate implementation of marketing plans.
Therefore, it was felt that they were likely also to be aware of problems arising, since
they worked closely with booksellers on the shop floor.
The interviews were designed with a view to drawing out information on the key
themes of:
brand identity of the store in question;
marketing strategies and tools;
any recent developments or changes in the branding or marketing strategies; and
customer experience in store, especially in relation to staff interaction.
The starting points for these themes came from readings of trade commentaries on
current issues affecting the trade. Nevertheless an effort was made to keep the
interviews as open as possible, and to engender an atmosphere of openness in order to
draw out new, unanticipated information (Creswell, 2003). Two pilot interviews were
carried out (one with the manager of a local academic bookshop, the other with a
former manager of a chain bookshop). Minor changes were made to the interview
schedule before the interviews were carried out. These were undertaken at the
interviewees places of work with the exception of one telephone interview and full
assurances of confidentiality were given. The interviews were tape recorded and
promptly transcribed allowing observations which were still fresh in the researchers
mind to be noted simultaneously, since Kvale (1996, p. 160) is of the opinion that
transcription is not a mere clerical task, but an interpretative process.
While inevitable bias occurs while interviewing due to the interviewers own
background and experience (Denscombe, 1998), Kvale (1996, p. 287) says that:
rather than attempt to eliminate the personal interaction of interviewer and interviewee . . .
[we can] regard the person of the interviewer as the primary methodological tool.

Indeed, Kvale says that familiarity with the environment in which the interviews are to
take place, is essential. The researchers own experience within the book trade certainly

influenced the inception of the research and personal interest, but it is felt that by
making clear her own background within the trade, as well as many years experience
therein, the interviews were in some cases made easier, due to establishing mutual
respect and because interviewees were able to use jargon and refer to book trade events
which had taken place over the years, in the knowledge that the interviewer would
recognise these references. An effort was made to maintain an open, reflective
approach to the interview process, in order to allow fresh themes to emerge from the
process. Indeed, this open, reflective approach led to the topics of third place and
community responsiveness emerging from the interviewees, rather than the
While transcribing, notes were made reflecting key issues which seemed to be
emerging. A re-reading of the transcripts revealed further threads of information and
memos were made, collating themes from the earlier notes. A thorough familiarity with
the transcripts has aided the analysis of the rich interview data and underpinned the
substance of the emergent themes (Miles and Huberman, 1994).
Marketing the brand in bookshops
When examining how the brand identity and marketing strategies have evolved in UK
bookshops, it is clear to any bookshop customer that display methods, whether in
windows or on tables in store, have become much more stylised and uniform in recent
years amongst the chains. Bookshops are now obliged to take a much more rigorous
and professional approach to marketing. According to one manager interviewed,
marketing in bookshops is now more robust, more professional, more competitive,
less nave. There now exists increased marketing control and increased advice
from head office as to how bookshops should be pushing the brand. The general shift
towards increased professionalism; greater cohesion across individual chains
regarding marketing techniques; the trend for taking retail experts in from outside
the book trade and the increase in competition across the chains and from
supermarkets and online booksellers have helped the UK chains adopt a more strategic
approach as regards marketing and branding.
It is important to bear in mind that an increasingly sophisticated approach to
marketing can be seen across the whole of the retail sector and is partly in response to
the increased sophistication of the consumer (Christopher et al., 2002). Given the new
sophistication of many shoppers, the book trade has been forced to undertake a more
professional approach to marketing the product. Indeed one manager thought that the
brand for us is personified in how we merchandise the shop. She went on to explain
that the style of display seemed to her to be more representative of the brand identity of
the chain than the books that were stocked, and was thought to involve more
prescriptive input from head office than even the choice of titles for sale. The new
professionalism in approaching marketing is evident across most of the UKs chain
bookshops, and is referred to time and again by the managers interviewed, as they
talked about the strict set of expectations and guidelines as regards front of shop
display and the integral importance of particular areas in store especially front of
shop for many stores, which encapsulates the brand identity of the store in many
cases. The new prescriptiveness of book chain marketing departments is not
necessarily perceived as a bad thing by the bookshops concerned, but a side-effect
perceived by some in the trade is the resulting sameness across many of the chain

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bookstores: the same books displayed in the same shape with the same posters, no
matter which branch of a given chain you may visit. So, while Kotler and Armstrong
(2001) said [Branding is] . . . a name, term, sign, symbol, or design . . . that identifies
the maker or seller of a product or service, one has to bear in mind that values
attached to a brand are defined by consumers, not marketers (Hall, 2000) and to
examine these views of branding within a book trade which is becoming increasingly
The discount-focussed approach and homogeneity
The factors influencing consumer purchase of products, beyond those of utility, are
subtle and multifarious (Gilbert, 2003; Solomon, 2002; Tauber, 1972). In the current
competitive book retailing market, the search for distinction in order to gain a
competitive advantage may sometimes seem to have been given a low priority given
the similarity of the marketing techniques across many of the UK chain bookshops:
3 for 2 (i.e. the sale of three books for the price of two); summer reading
campaigns; book of the month; staff recommends, etc. Indeed it is ironic that while
many of the managers interviewed stated a key aim was to develop individual store
identity within separate branches and to respond to local needs, they meantime use
the same marketing tools as their competitors. This applies in particular to price
promotions and staff recommends sections. It also applies to aspects of book display
such as having a bestsellers section by the door and having tables of promoted
books near the entry area to the store. While a competitive advantage can be gained
from many different layers of the business within any industry (Porter, 1985) it is
still interesting that UK chain bookshops undertake such similar promotional
campaigns. Retail analyst Phillips (2003) points out that discounting is the least
imaginative way to sell and is sometimes indicative of a desperate attempt to raise
sales. If this is true, it would suggest that a more strategic approach to expanding
the market for book retailers needs to be generated. There are sacrifices associated
with this kind of promotion, most notably that of loss of margin (net profit) and this
is felt keenly by store managers. It is also important for bookshops to bear in mind
the impact that this kind of price-oriented marketing can have on brand and
perhaps most crucially the perception that loyal customers may have of their
favoured bookshops. As Kent (2003) says:
. . . brand selection is based on experience and expectation; it appeals to a discrete group of
buyers, indeed to consistently succeed it must maintain an affinity with a defined group.

The one size fits all approach to broadening the market with discounting must be
treated by bookshops with care or loyal long serving customers may find themselves
with no chain bookshops left where they can feel comfortable and fit in their
surroundings (Solomon, 2002; Schiffman and Kanuk, 2004) while looking at books. The
efforts to expand the market and provide a US style bookshop may be attractive to
many people, but if the traditional bookshops were formerly the territory of the book
fiend they may feel displaced by this obvious strategy to expand the market.
The argument that chains are often formulaic in their approach to marketing and
even in their stockholding is made by Andy Ross, President of Codys Bookstores in
California, in an article which states the case for independent bookselling. Ross (2002)

The chain stores are mass merchants. They are very good at promoting highly commercial
titles with huge printings and giant promotional budgets.

However, they are as a result formulaic and predictable. The demise of the
independents and their contribution to the breadth of bookselling as a whole was
mentioned with regret by several interviewees. One manager felt that the growth of the
chains in fact limited choice for the consumer. His regret at the demise of the
independents contrasted with the fact that he is the marketing manager of a branch of
a large chain is an irony which was not lost on him. He said the whole nature of large
organisations dominating the whole market is, it limits choice. Nevertheless,
co-ordinated promotions are currently an integral part of bookshop life: constant
changing of windows, updating of posters and in-store displays occur to a greater
degree than ever before. The constant turnaround of promotions and the marketing
plans to which all chain bookshops now adhere is a labour intensive system, but when
one examines the perceived impact on the brand, some interesting responses are
unearthed. When asked in what way common promotions such as back to university
(BTU) and 3 for 2 reinforce the brand, the considered opinion of one manager is, Im
not sure they do reinforce the brand. The reinforcement of the brand may not be the
prime intention of these promotions presumably it is to increase sales
nevertheless, some impact on brand image might be expected. While one of the stated
aims of this kind of price promotion is to demonstrate good pricing and value for
money, thus reinforcing those values and attaching them to a particular brand, there
are reservations about the margin (net profit) which is given away on such promotions.
Rather than 3 for 2, one manager expressed his frustration at not being able to sell
items 3 for 3 instead of 3 for 2 i.e. at full price. As for how a promotion such as 3
for 2 supported the brand, the same manager made the salient point that every high
street bookshop now does 3 for 2 promotions and suggested it was an ideal
opportunity for identity to be stamped on a bookshop by not doing a 3 for 2
promotion. As retail analyst Phillips (2003) reminds us:
. . . price is the last resort of the unintelligent, uneducated or unimaginative the easy no
brainer option. In contrast, working out what the consumer really wants and supplying it
requires time, ability and effort.

The similarity of promotional schemes across UK bookshops makes blurring of

identity a real possibility and also makes competitive advantage more difficult to
achieve for the stores concerned (Porter, 1985; Thompson, 2001). This element of doubt
within stores as regards head office strategy is realistically the kind of tension which
one might expect across any large retail establishment. Nevertheless, it would seem to
be important to investigate the reasons for undertaking such promotions, if some
managers have doubts about them (De Chernatony and McDonald, 1998). According to
several of the managers interviewed, a key strategy of these very common promotions
(like 3 for 2, or 2 for 10) is to get new people into the stores concerned, so the fact
that many stores are sacrificing a large chunk of margin is just one segment of the
larger strategic plan. From a strategic point of view, the marketing director involved in
this research raised the interesting point that the 3 for 2 promotion not only offers
excellent value for money but also gives people the opportunity to expand their literary
tastes and genres with which they were familiar, as it affords them the opportunity to
gamble on the third title. Nevertheless, it is difficult to quantify the direct effect this

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kind of promotion has either on attracting new customers, brand identity or on the
bottom line (although research is ongoing in this area). In many ways the rush for the
high street stores and multinationals to take part in 3 for 2 promotions is indicative of
the kind of frenzy of discounting that has so defined large parts of the book trade over
the past few years. The substantial discounts which have been applied to what could
be seen as guaranteed good sellers has been at the heart of much trade discussion and
the effectiveness of such promotions is open to debate (Phillips, 2003). While there is
perhaps less talk of loss leaders currently in the trade, there is still a lot of
discounting to be witnessed in the chains and supermarkets, and in the current
marketplace where there is still vigorous competition.
Bookshops and the Lifestyle environment
It was already clear from discussion within both trade and scholarly literature (Miller,
1999; Sanderson, 1999; Smith, 1999) that an increasingly important topic for the book
trade was that of the atmosphere or ambience in bookshops and the role this has to
play in the success of individual branches. This subject area formed an important part
of the interviews and was often the area upon which the interviewees placed much
emphasis and importance.
An important force in the refocusing of marketing strategy within chain bookshops
has been the rise of internet bookselling, especially Amazon. The social advantages
that high street bookshops have over internet bookshops were possibly overlooked
when the initial fears about internet bookselling were voiced. As one manager summed
. . . a big part of the buying decision for books is looking at them and browsing them,
comparing them. Maybe going for a coffee or popping in or being brought in so the . . . human
enjoyment of physically going shopping and seeing other people and being seen youll
never compete with that.

This sentiment is even supported by Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon (Spector, 2000).
Although the field of atmospherics and the add-on value of every retail experience is an
established field of retail research (Kotler, 1973; Miller, 1998; Woodruffe-Burton et al.,
2001) it is only recently that these aspects of the whole shopping experience seem to
have come to the fore within the field of bookselling. They are now understood to be
integral aspects of the whole book shopping experience, thus endowing bricks and
mortar bookshops with a key advantage in an area where the online bookshops are
currently unable to compete. The overall cultural shift within bookshops which has
taken place over the past few years particularly as regards the broader market which
bookshops are now aiming for has seen the chain bookshops moving toward a
lifestyle environment with sofas and coffee shops. However, the effectiveness or
otherwise of this directional shift has not been examined or monitored in any detail. As
Gardiner (2002) says:
Their [the bookshops] community-building activities are broad brush to say the least, and it
is hard to see how this could be refined or how chain bookshops . . . could find out who their
customers are, what they purchase individually, as opposed to an aggregate, and how they
could be encouraged to do more of it.

From being an atmosphere of quiet and calm for the most bookish of customers, many
bookshops have now moved towards being places of and for the whole of the

community: a third place (see next section); a lifestyle destination. It is interesting to

note that when the topic of coffee shops was raised with the bookshop managers who
were interviewed, all of the managers felt that having a coffee shop in store contributed
in some way to the store identity. Overall, this was felt to be one of the biggest
contributors to the image of bookshops and to add hugely to the atmosphere, ambiance
and the feeling that bookshops can have a meaningful impact on the local community.
However, although all of the managers interviewed felt that having a coffee shop in
store contributed to the brand, there was a general inability to say definitively whether
the addition of a coffee shop made any meaningful contribution to sales of books.
Furthermore, there was no real knowledge of whether the coffee shop customers are a
separate clientele or the same customers who already buy books. It is therefore clear
that the benefit to bookshops of having a coffee shop is made harder to assess if it is the
experience that is enhanced rather than having a direct, immediate benefit to the
bottom line. Nevertheless, while the common use of coffee shops within bookshops
may have the effect of obscuring distinctions between the product (or service) and store
image (Corstjens and Corstjens, 1995), this blurring of distinctions can be viewed as a
positive step in so far as it might encourage the accessibility of bookshops beyond
what has in recent years been the habitat of socioeconomic group ABC1 (Mintel, 2003).
Many bookshops have introduced coffee shops in store over the past few years and
while they are part of a strategic move by bookshop chains to expand their client base,
they also satisfy a lifestyle choice which more bookshop visitors are making. If the
whole aim of having coffee shops in bookshops is to enhance the book shopping
experience rather than the bottom line, this represents a change of focus in bookshop
marketing in the UK. Even in the stores which are too small to have coffee shops
installed, one manager referred to the Costa bambinos which are now in place in
some of the smaller stores in her chain. These are trolleys from which staff can serve
coffees to customers and is further evidence of the element of lifestyle which is
seeping in to almost all chain bookshops. This theme, of customers harbouring the
expectation of a coffee shop within a bookshop (Sanderson, 1999) was picked up and
extended by one manager when commenting on in-store seating. Making the point that
customers like to know there are seats around, but that they may not sit in them, she
thought this was evidence of another part of the lifestyle aspect of the bookshop as a
place of comfort and relaxation. She went on to suggest that in a similar vein,
customers wanted to know that big authors were to visit the store, even though they
had no intention of attending the event themselves. The topic of the lifestyle store is
mentioned with increasing frequency in relation to bookshops and illustrates how the
publics expectations of bookshops has changed beyond all recognition over the past
few decades, and most markedly in the past ten years.
Bookshops in the community
While exploring the brand identity of chain bookshops in the UK, there is considerable
overlap in the qualities which managers hope they are conveying to their customers.
One of the most pervasive themes is that of the community and how many bookshops
aim to appeal to the whole of their respective communities. This theme of inclusiveness
and endeavouring to serve the whole community is certainly part a strategic plan to
expand the market rather than simply an altruistic aim. However, regardless of the
motivation behind this strategy, it carries broad social implications. Community

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outreach and community spirit are qualities which are perceived by the managers
as being integral to the brand identity of many UK chain bookshops, along with the
aspects of the store which one might more readily expect to be mentioned, such as
knowledgeable staff and a good range of stock. At least one chain is actually referring
to some of its own branches as lifestyle stores. While exploring the theme of serving
the community and the atmosphere of bookshops, one manager introduced the term
third place which describes a place of or for the community which is free or cheap to
enter and where people can find companionship, conversation, partake in the
community and perhaps eat or drink (Nozzi, 2004). The term third refers to the fact
that it comes after ones home and ones place of work, to provide a place of relaxation
and social interaction with no pressures attached (Oldenburg, 1997). The bookshop as a
destination or lifestyle choice is a topic which has been referred to before, both in
trade writing (McCabe, 1998; Sanderson, 1999) and in academia (Miller, 1999) and is
becoming more prevalent with the current expansion of large chain bookshops which
have cafes, sofas and enough room for a consumer to spend a considerable amount of
time there without being explicitly encouraged to buy any goods. Of course, the retail
environment as a place of leisure and pleasure is not a new concept (Satterthwaite,
2001; Nava, 1996; Miles, 1998), but, vitally, it has not been considered before in the
context of the UK chain bookshop. Indeed, if one is familiar with Waterstones at its
inception, it is clear that in 1982, this chain was most definitely an environment for the
well-read few, rather than anyone venturing into a branch for the first time. This
projected brand identity has most certainly changed.
The relaxed atmosphere of many large bookshops was felt by many bookshop
managers interviewed to play a primary role in attracting and keeping people in store.
One manager specifically mentioned the freedom which customers were given to
browse, have coffee and roam around. While store layout and design is undoubtedly
part of what makes shopping in any given store more attractive (Miller, 1998;
Satterthwaite, 2001; Underhill, 1999), it is often difficult to be exact about what
individual consumers mean when they use the terms atmosphere or ambiance.
Many of the managers interviewed referred to the frequency with which customers
referred to these terms in the context of the respective stores, and how these qualities
were what they liked most about shopping there. Gilbert (2003) refers to
atmospherics as:
The changes made to the design of buying environments that produce special emotional
effects that subsequently enhance the likelihood that a purchase will take place.

Kotler (1973, p. 129) originally defined atmospherics as the conscious designing of

space to create certain effects in buyers. His description of atmosphere is broken down
categorically into visual, aural, olfactory and tactile dimensions. It is interesting to note
that Hoffman et al. (2002) compare the terms atmospherics and servicescape (coined by
Bitner (1992)) and suggest they are interchangeable. I.e. the manmade, physical
surroundings as opposed to natural or social environment (Bitner, 1992). However, it
is important to note that the social environment is vital when considering the role of the
bookshop in local communities, as well as the qualities which bookshop users
experience when using bookshops. In this context, the term atmospheric or
servicescape arguably falls short of what is present in the atmosphere of many
bookshops. For instance, there are frequent mentions of one bookshop (a large US/UK

chain with several floors, coffee shop and sofas) in the I saw you section of the List
magazine. This is a classified section of a local events magazine which is subscribed to
by a largely youthful population. The I saw you section works like any other
classified section dealing with relationships but also concentrates on where the
interested party saw their potential partner. This clearly extends the social element of
the bookshop to another level. That bookshops are now accepted as a place to meet
prospective partners illustrates how far the image of the bookshop has come even in
the last 20 years.
The role of the bookshop in the community is perhaps relatively new in this country
(Smith, 1999) but has long been familiar in the USA where there is a strong place
occupied in the community by many bookshops (Miller, 1999; Oldenburg, 1997). Miller
(1999) points out how this contribution to the community is different depending on
whether one considers independent bookselling, which is sensitive to local tastes and
supports the community in a cultural sense . . . and in an economic sense or the
chains, which provide large public spaces for the community to come together. The
potential for bookshops to play a role in the local community is arguably more overtly
obvious in the large chains which have enough cash and space to install coffee shops
and sofas. Judging by the interviews undertaken with various trade experts, it is clear
that this mantle of community awareness is one which the chains are keen to take on.
To be identified as serving the community, being community responsive and in one
case being an independent within a chain are all goals as far as the UK chains are
concerned. In many ways, they seem to be cherry picking the skills traditionally
associated with independent bookshops, and implementing these skills in each branch
of the chains. The community role played by bookshops is also clearly a commercial
advantage welcoming all people but also obviously hoping they will spend and is
seen as a sound long-term marketing tool. In many large chain bookshops, some people
might pop in just to purchase books, but others see it as somewhere to read or study or
just relax and have coffee, again underlining the freedom that people now have in
many chain bookshops. This multi-layered branding means that one bookshop might
be many things to many different people. Indeed, this is one aspect of being a third
place providing a safe place to go, but not putting pressure on people to behave in
any particular way, other than being socially responsible (Oldenburg, 1997).
While there are obvious commercial advantages in promoting the community role
and partaking in all of the community outreach activities, nevertheless some
booksellers feel there is still an altruistic aspect to it all. As one bookshop manager
said, it is one of the good things that bookshops are able to do. He continued, People
come in not just to purchase books or . . . whatever. They come in because it is a
lifestyle choice. Indeed, in his store which out of the ones in question possibly
conformed most closely to that ideal of third place, bookshop visitors were
encouraged to walk around the store with coffee, sit at tables, do work or read and he
confirmed that there would be no pressure put on them to purchase anything. As he
put it, were not just there to take your money from you; . . . were there as part of the
community. This assertion of serving the community is strengthened by the
community outreach activities which selected ranches of this particular chain
undertake. These include support of charity reading campaigns for the
underprivileged and outreach work with schools. According to the marketing
manager interviewed at one branch, some of the people coming to the store for school

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visits and talks have never been in a bookshop before. To then be given a voucher to
spend on goods of their choice in that bookshop sends a powerful promotional
message, hopefully reinforcing the profile of the bookshop in question but also of books
in general.
Findings and conclusions
Although the interviews were carried out with bookshop managers across three
different UK chain bookshops, the degree of overlap regarding marketing tools used
and underlying marketing strategies (Table I), were considerable.
The key marketing tools used by UK chain bookshops were identified as follows:
special offers;
personalised service;
bookshop identity;
community responsiveness; and
bookshop as a lifestyle destination.
It is ironic that in the face of a desire to develop individual identity amongst stores in
an effort to be seen as community responsive, most chain bookshops persist in using
exactly the same marketing tools as each other. (Ongoing research will examine how
well consumers can distinguish between chain bookshops in the UK). Price promoted
titles such as the ubiquitous 3 for 2 offer or books of the month are still very much at
the fore of marketing and seem to be integral to the strategy of most chain bookshops,
signifying their desire to widen the market and appeal to the whole of the community.
The realisation by many chain bookshops evidenced by the interviews undertaken
that they need to be community responsive has driven the desire to establish individual
branch identity. Whether or not this has been successful, bookshops recognise that
although they are part of a chain, the individual needs of their own communities may
Marketing tool implemented

Strategy underpinning this tool

Special offers (3 for 2, 2 for 10)

Primarily to attract new customers into

bookshops, as well as the need to compete in a
difficult market

The desire to establish a distinct identity for

Independent within a Chain
An effort to develop individual identity for shops individual branches of chain bookshops
depending on their locale
Community responsiveness
A need to serve local markets and to be seen to be
relevant for the local community

Table I.
Matrix of key marketing
tools and strategies

Lifestyle qualities
The introduction of coffee shops, sofas and
browsing areas. A focus on the importance of the
bookshop atmosphere

The development of the bookshop as a destination

store; lifestyle choice, or even a third place.
Ultimately to attract new bookshop users and to
entice them to stay longer. To make the bookshop
seem like a more desirable place to linger

Personalised service
Techniques such as hand selling, staff

The need to compete with supermarkets, online


necessitate significant tailoring of stock profiles. The individuality of the different

branches can in this context be seen as a strength rather than a challenge to brand
integrity, so that the individual personality of (or personalities in) a branch can be used
to the advantage of certain stores. Despite the fact that this research focuses on chain
bookshops, the branches themselves seem now to be focussing upon the kinds of skills
which could be said to have traditionally been the territory of the independents, i.e.
personalised customer service and an awareness of the local community. Although the
modern chain bookshop Waterstones being a prime example has always been
forthright about the kind of service it gives and the knowledge of its booksellers, the
emphasis on extending this personal service and serving the whole community seem to
be newer strategies.
Strategic efforts to make bookshops welcoming, accessible and non-threatening are
all part of the concerted effort to make bookshops viable destinations for all sectors of
the community (communities). The refocus on customer service and a reassessment of
what that term can really mean, has turned the emphasis onto the bookseller and
recognises their central role both in driving sales and in customer satisfaction. The key
term hand selling sets out the model for a customer-bookseller interaction as being
individually tailored rather than dealing with just another customer buying a book.
However, perhaps the most resonant aspect of bookselling as it is currently is the way
in which most of the chains have adopted aspects of lifestyle bookselling and how
these have become central to what customers now expect of bookshops. Coffee shops
and sofas are becoming the norm in chain bookshops now, but it will be interesting to
monitor how far bookshops go in adopting more meaningful aspects of true
community bookselling as exists in the USA (Miller, 1999). Should bookshops adopt
these far-reaching, socially influential roles? It will be interesting to monitor how the
place of bookshops within their respective communities develops over the following
months and years. They certainly have the potential to become third places in the
truest sense of the phrase and while the advantages to the stores concerned may not be
financially immediate, their influence over the wider community has the potential to
become very strong.

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About the authors
Audrey Laing is a PhD research student and ad-hoc Lecturer within the Publishing Department
at The Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, Scotland. Her thesis, entitled Bookselling culture
& consumer behaviour: marketing strategies and responses, in traditional and online
environments emanated from many years spent working in the book trade. It aims to explore
how bookshop users respond to current marketing strategies being followed by UK chains,
focusing in particular upon newer US inspired initiatives such as coffee shops and browsing
areas. The research funded by The Robert Gordon University Research Development
Initiative goes on to examine how the strategies used are adapted to suit an online bookselling
environment. Audrey has previously published on the subject of the UK book trade and the
challenges they face with regard to expanding the market. Audrey Laing is the corresponding
author and can be contacted at:
Jo Royle is Senior Lecturer and Subject Leader for Communication and Publishing within the
Aberdeen Business School at the Robert Gordon University and is Undergraduate Programme
Manager in the field. She lectures on electronic publishing and consumer publishing at both
undergraduate and postgraduate levels; and has supervised and carried out research in these
areas, and gained related external funding from sources including the Arts and Humanities
Research Board and British National Bibliography Research Fund. In particular this research
has focused on the role of branding for consumer publishers on the internet and change
management issues associated with multimedia publishing for children. She recently gained
internal funding from the RGU Research Development Initiative and it is from this that the
research on branding and the community in bookselling is progressing. She was previously
Editorial Manager of an independent consumer publishing house.

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Marketing and
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