Bookshop of the Month – National Portrait Gallery, London

The National Portrait Gallery Bookshop is our bookshop of the month for July! Housing one of the most extensive portrait collections in the world, the National Portrait Gallery in London brings some of the world’s most notable faces to present day audiences. We headed down to the bookshop and chatted to the manager, Emma, about what it’s like to share a house with some of the biggest names in art.

1. Being part of the Portrait Gallery must mean a wide range of customers on a daily basis. Do you find that customers are mainly looking for illustrated art catalogues, or are the fiction and children’s ranges just as strong?

Yes, I would say that sales are good across all the book departments. Like other retailers, we have seen a steady growth in children’s book sales and our new location has given us the opportunity to broaden our offer for families with increased shelf space and a wider range of available titles.

I think it would be fair to say that our book offer is nearly always exhibition led and the real challenge is sourcing titles that will compliment exhibition catalogues and product ranges. Although we keep a core range of History, Fashion, Photography and Art books, the amount of space or prominence we give to these depends on the exhibition programme. Currently, visitors will find a fantastic range of practical art books for those inspired by the BP Portrait Award 2017 exhibition and I’m currently sourcing titles to accompany Cezanne Portraits which opens this October.

2. You’ve recently moved the bookshop to a new space in the main gallery foyer. How has this impacted on sales and shop aesthetics/atmosphere?

The new location is highly visible to our visitors entering through the Main Hall or making their way up to the Gallery spaces. Visitors have been really complimentary about the new bookshop and it offers us a brighter, modern retail space for customers to enjoy browsing in. Our new location is also much more suitable for hosting events and is available for private or public book launches. We have hosted events for fine art and photography books as well as holding publishing industry events. This is an area we are really keen to promote and develop this year.

3. Which exhibition has produced the best selling catalogue in the last year or so?

Our best selling catalogue in 2016 was the book we produced to accompany the Vogue 100: A Century of Style exhibition. This book and the product range around the exhibition did tremendously well as the visitors who came to see the exhibition were so engaged with the experience that they were keen to purchase lots of books and merchandise. We tried to create a book that would stand alone after the exhibition as a history of British Vogue, and it continues to sell very well for us.

4. Best celebrity spot whilst working the shop floor?

Over the past 7 years working at the Gallery, I have spotted a number of famous faces. We try to remain professional but it’s not always so easy for our visitors! Recently a colleague called with an enquiry about a Gallery Publication from years ago. Luckily, I was able to recall the title, find the last copy available and we made the sale. It wasn’t until a few hours later that my colleague informed me that the customer had been Sir David Attenborough!


To find out more about the National Portrait Gallery Bookshop, visit their website, or follow them on Twitter. Or, pop in store!

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