For a placement on an MSc Publishing course, an independent bookshop might not sound fitting. What could one learn that would be of relevance when applying for jobs with Penguin or Faber & Faber? The answer is: quite a few things. My placement with Word Power Books in Edinburgh has enhanced my knowledge of the book industry, which until now has been very much one-sided (the one side being the publishing aspect).
On the first few days of this placement I was introduced to one rather important activity for this indie: running a bookstall. The occasion was a forensic psychoanalysis conference at the Apex Hotel in the Grassmarket, with the enticing title of Murder in Mind. While the rest of Britain was watching Kate Middleton walk down the aisle, I was selling books with titles such as Pedophilia, Violent Adolescents and Murder and Madness. This experience was further enlivened by the authors present, who saw me in charge of the stall and concluded I had all the answers, especially to why there was only one copy of their book at the stall, and why no-one had bought it yet.
One of my main tasks for my placement was to re-design the signage for the shop, to make customers more likely to pick up a book (which in turn increases the chances for a sale). To familiarize myself with the stock, I took on some stocktaking, a new experience to me, as past jobs have been mainly pub-oriented. I will never again waltz into a bookshop, pick a book of the shelf, for then to casually put it back any old place. For the signs, I worked from home where I had access to InDesign, a sofa, and an endless supply of coffee. To judge the success of these, have a peak into the bookshop on West Nicolson street to make up your own minds.
During the placement, I had the opportunity to observe rep appointments. It was interesting to see the connection between publisher and bookshop first-hand, and eye opening how quickly the manager made her decisions and turned the page to the next AI. The reps were ready with comments and opinions of the books, but knew from experience not to go for a hard sale in this particular shop.
This placement was a very worthwhile experience, enhancing my understanding of the book business at large and the current situation for independent bookshops in a world of chains and online giants.