Former Head Buyer with Easons, Maria Dickenson has this year become the Managing Director of Dubray Books and will form part of our bookselling panel session at Publishing Ireland’s annual trade day on Friday, 14 November. Under the theme of ‘Working Together’, Dickenson spoke to PI on bookselling, publishing and what the industry as a whole needs to do to help each other out in what has become an increasingly challenging climate.
PI What is the greatest challenge facing booksellers today?
MD Honestly, I think that e-readers and online selling only make up a percentage of the challenge that faces us: the overarching one being the many forms of cheap and engaging entertainment so easily available to our customers. Social media is making massive incursions into reading time – I’m guilty of that myself – and the growth of on-demand at-home movies and tv series through Netflix and Apple TV means books are being pushed down the entertainment pecking order. We need to work harder to create the sense of community and talkability that these competitors have engendered.
PI You were head of book purchasing with Eason for seven years and have worked with them for many years before that. With your recent move to Dubray Books as Managing Director, how have you found the transition?
MD The book trade is a small place so while it’s a big transition in many ways, there is also a lot that is familiar – I used to sell into Dubray when I was a rep at the start of my career and I’ve worked with members of the team in various guises along the way. I’ve great respect for the business that Kevin and Gemma developed and nurtured over the years so it’s a great honour to take on the role. My colleagues and the trade have been very supportive.
PI What one word would you use to describe the publisher-bookseller dynamic and why?
MD Vital is the only word for it! And in both its meanings: in that it is absolutely necessary and also that it should be full of life. Exciting new content is the life-blood of the bookselling world, and even with the development of online selling, physical retailers are still the strongest route to market for publishers.
PI How do you feel publishers and booksellers might better this dynamic if at all?
MD Like any relationship, this one needs regular care and attention! Particularly in recent years, time pressures and stretched resources have places everybody under pressure, but taking time to communicate and understand the challenges of each side of this dynamic is important if we are all to thrive.
On a more practical level, I think there is an opportunity for more bespoke partnerships between publishers and individual booksellers: getting together to think strategically about common interests – a key author, a series of events, a social media campaign – and working to co-promote. Consumers are demanding more variety from bookshops and there are great opportunities to provide this if we work together.
PI Where do you see the bookselling industry going in the future? Is bookselling a bright landscape or is the encroachment of online retail too large a beast to ignore?
MD The landscape of physical retailing is still changing for booksellers. While e-book sales are starting to plateau, we are still faced with competition from other entertainment sectors, and of course the relevance of the printed book to generations schooled on tablets is far from secure. That said, children’s print sales are strong, so there are reasons to be cautiously optimistic at least for the near future. We must work hard though. To remain relevant, bookshops and publishers need to be innovative: they must be fascinating places to spend time, build strong links with customers and communities, and look at new ways of bringing the physical book to life.
* Come and hear Maria talk with Bob Johnston (Gutter Bookshop) and Larry McHale (Argosy) on Friday, 14 November for our bookselling session. For more details on our trade event, click here