For October’s Bookshop of the Month, we popped down to New Cross in South London to chat to David, the manager of The Word Bookshop. Based near University of London’s Goldsmith campus, we asked David what it’s like to run an independent so close to a university, and other perks of being located in South London.
1. You’re based on the Goldsmith campus in New Cross. How do you collaborate with the university to bring the latest books to their students?
We contact teaching staff as far in advance as possible to make sure that we have up to date course reading lists. Once we have an idea of which books from these lists are available, and which are likely to sell well (which is a lot easier to identify now that we’ve been operating for a year), they become part of our range. The books on the reading lists give us a good indication of similar titles and themes that are likely to appeal to students, and we do our best to keep abreast of upcoming courses and books published by lecturers to make sure that we can stock other relevant titles.
We’re also very involved with the newly rebooted Goldsmiths Press – Les Back’s excellent Academic Diary, published last year, was the first book we sold and remains our biggest selling title We’re having a launch in the shop next month for their next two titles, with another on the way in December.
2. Would you say your main customer base is students? Do you think your bestsellers reflect this kind of market?
Yes, most of our customers are students, especially towards the start of the academic year or the new term. However, as a high street bookseller there are a lot of books that will appeal to both students and the general reader, that will sell in significant numbers. It’s really satisfying to see how well these ‘cross-over’ titles go down.
Even our children’s book sales seem to reflect the political and ethical leanings of both the College and the area. For example, our bestselling children’s book is Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World, which pretty much sums up the clientele in the local community.
3. Peckham and New Cross are newly popular areas of London – what’s it like being an independent bookshop during this time?
We attract people from the local areas, including Brockley, Deptford and Lewisham, and it seems people do appreciate and value a real high street bookshop. I think being an independent also adds to the appeal, as opposed to being online or part of a chain. I think creating a particular identity and a welcoming, enjoyable and interesting atmosphere is key to attracting return custom.
I always try to say hello to people as they come into the shop, but will let people browse without asking what they’re looking for (unless they look like they need help), as I know this can sometimes put people off. I think our interestingly eclectic music playlist helps add to the shop’s vibe too – ska seems to be a particular favourite!
4. You run quite a few events in store – what kind of events work best for you and your customers?
We are involved with quite a few events, most of which are on campus, from book launches to supporting events and lectures where authors are involved – we’re either asked to bring books along, or we’ll approach organisers. Currently, we are very excited to be involved with this year’s Goldsmiths Prize.
The events that seem to work best in the shop are book launches as these tend to be quite relaxed and informal – when we clear the shop floor we can accommodate 45-50 people. We’ve tried a few Q&As with authors, but, even though they are free, I think it’s going to take a bit longer to build an audience. We also collaborate with a neighbouring coffee shop called Out of the Brew to hold film screenings and book launches.
5. Do you have any exciting new plans for your store that you’d like to share here?
From quite an early stage, having decided on the shop’s name and recognising the opportunity for marketing slogans and slightly dodgy puns (“spread The Word”, “Mum’s The Word” for Mother’s Day etc.) I wanted to do a larger event – maybe a series of talks that could eventually be worthy of being called a sort of festival. Once I had the name – “Wordstock” – I realised this just has to happen.