Back to School at Blackwell’s

Founded in 1879 by Benjamin Henry Blackwell, famous academic retailer Blackwell’s is a fascinating business to spend time within. The Southbridge Blackwell’s in Edinburgh has its own history. They took over the location from James Thin in 2002 when the company went into administration.  The Edinburgh shop, while proud of its heritage, makes a marked effort to survive in difficult and challenging times for the industry.

I spent my time as a part of the Back to Schools team working to provide children with the books they need for the coming year. Part of the annual scheme is to buy back second hand books. These books are then used to fulfil orders that request second-hand over new.

Used with the kind permission of Blackwell's
Used with the kind permission of Blackwell’s

As part of the back to schools team I split my time between the back office and the academic floor. In the back office I booked the bought second-hand stock into the system and created orders that required this second-hand stock. Working on the academic floor gave me a chance to interact with the customers and work on the till. I also moved stock to create the schools display and put together orders that request new books.

Working at Blackwell’s is a great way to learn more about the final step in publishing – the selling. Arguably the most important part of the process, it is useful experience to learn what customers really want. In this case, this experience consists of secondary school pupils in Edinburgh and the textbooks used by the private schools.

This insight is invaluable as it is rarely that publishers can see directly which books are wanted by customers. Some titles are in high demand but have been declared out of print by the publisher. I wonder if that would be the case if they had seen the demand.

It’s great to have a chance to see publishing from all sides, and it’s important to see the industry as a whole to bring fresh ideas to future projects and working at Blackwell’s has given me a great insight into the final step of the academic publishing process.

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