The Booksellers Association of the U.K. & Ireland has launched a learning and development project for booksellers called BA Learning, its first formal learning and development offering in more than 20 years. The initiative will bring all current development resources together in one place, BA Learning Skills Hub, including the BA's Practical Guides, recorded conference and events sessions, and work from the UCT Mentoring program and other strands.
The platform will also feature new content and resources in a variety of formats. The BA is working with several partners to develop and launch the project. Along with this online content, the BA will fund a Bookshop Owners Coaching Program, drawing on a pilot with Retail Trust in 2021.
The project manager for BA Learning is Sheila O'Reilly, former owner of Dulwich Bookshop, previous BA Council Member and an Unwin Charitable Trust mentor, who is working with focus groups of booksellers to develop the project, supported by Ed Peppitt, a professional content creator and publishing consultant. The learning platform for the BA Learning project will be provided by the Independent Publishers' Guild Skills Hub, with bookseller resources hosted on the IPG's platform.
Meryl Halls, managing director of the Booksellers Association, said: "The purpose of BA Learning is to provide what bookshop owners--and their booksellers--need in order to be better bookshops and run effective businesses, and we will be working with booksellers throughout this project to ensure we're providing the right topics in the right format. I am genuinely excited that we are able to bring this project to the launchpad--it's been a long time coming, particularly with Covid-related delays, but we are ready now to work with our members and our partners to create a really valuable resource, at exactly the right moment for our members."
Andy Rossiter, president of the Booksellers Association, added: "The launch of BA Learning is an important moment for booksellers and I'm really pleased to see this happen during my Presidency. Booksellers are so mutually supportive and full of expertise and experience--it will be great to see the BA Learning Skills Hub become the go-to place to source all the resources we need to be better booksellers."
The BA plans to go live with BA Learning at the London Book Fair in April.
Independent booksellers in the U.K. and Ireland experienced "healthy Christmas trading this year," with almost 60% of participants in the Bookseller's survey "saying trade was 'very good' compared to 2020. Some retailers were up by as much as 50%, while one retailer's sales were triple that of December 2020, attributed to being able to sell in-person this year and not being reliant on online sales. In a separate poll, the Booksellers Association found 58% were up on sales for 2021 as a whole, compared to 2020, with 29% saying they were 'up a lot' at Christmas."
Of the 41 participants in the Bookseller's annual survey, 58% of respondents reported "very good" Christmas sales compared to the previous year, with 15% saying trade was "excellent," 23% voting "average" and 5% recording "disappointing" results.
Of the 228 bookshops polled in the BA survey, 23% said foot traffic in bookshops was "up a lot," while only 11% said the same was true of their town centers as a whole. Almost 44% of the Bookseller's respondents reported increased foot traffic on the high street, though nearly 31% said it had remained the same as last year, despite 2020's Christmas lockdown.
Last year's Christmas trading survey "found lots of customers did one big shop and spent less time on the premises, owing to pandemic stress and lockdown measures," the Bookseller wrote. "By contrast, a number of this year's respondents suggested that they had seen a lower than average transactional value per customer, but with more frequent visits. However, the BA's survey found that for 34% of booksellers, customers' average transactional value was 'up a little'; it remained level for 29% of respondents, and was 'down a little' for 15% of those surveyed. For just 3% it was a down a lot."
The Bookseller's survey also noted that 56% of participants said problems with the supply chain meant certain titles--particularly reprints--were difficult to obtain, with many attributing this to ongoing paper shortages. Overall, however, publishers were praised for doing an "incredible job" keeping titles in stock. The survey found bookshop staff are entering 2022 "with a broadly positive outlook, though anxiety about Covid-19 variants and Brexit are widespread."
Organizers of the Bologna Children's Book Fair have confirmed the event will be held in person this year, March 21-24--coinciding with a Shanghai International Children's Book Fair--but will offer exhibitors a 100% refund if it has to be canceled again, the Bookseller reported. Organizers said strict health and safety measures will be in place and attendees will need to "ensure their vaccinations are up to date" to enter the fair.
"Italy is at the vanguard of Covid safety measures and our implementation is among the strictest at international level, with protocols that guarantee maximum efficacy," said Elena Pasoli, Bologna's exhibition manager, noting that the fair will follow the government's instructions "to the letter" and that organizers "really do not want" to cancel an in-person event again.
She added that while it is too early to speak about potential attendance figures, there had been a "pleasing level of interest" thus far. "We know, through our ongoing dialogue with exhibitors, that there is continued enthusiasm to participate in this year's fair. It is too early, in this constantly changing global picture, to predict usefully the number of delegates. Watch this space." --Robert Gray