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Marylebone Books, UK

Jacqui Gadd, co-owner of Marylebone Books, discusses the New Cavendish Street branch.

Where is your shop? In the communal area at the entrance to the New Cavendish Street campus of the University of Westminster. We have a second shop at the Marylebone campus and used to have a third shop up at Harrow, but that closed around 2004. They have a very good library there, which is good for the students but not so good for us!

What kind of books do you sell? Here we focus on life sciences, computing, social sciences and a lot of law. The Marylebone shop at the Westminster Business School is bigger both in terms of size and turnover, and the emphasis is on business and management, plus some architecture and planning.

Law books

How many people work with you? At the moment there are seven people working in the two shops: my husband and business partner, Tim Pearce; two part-timers, three full time staff and me. We may employ a further six or seven part-timers during term time.

How long have you been in the business? Thirty years! After leaving school I worked for Websters, then went into publishing at Walker Books. I then did freelance sales and marketing work. We took over the business from the Town and Country Planning Association twenty years ago.

What does a typical day involve? June is policy time, so at the moment I’m busy setting up meetings with senior university staff to discuss plans for the next term and other issues such as institutional and library sales). We’re also moving the shop at Marylebone, so there are planning meetings about that. I also do staff cover. Today I’m doing a presentation about book buying to the marketing and business strategy lecturers. We’re also working on a project to recycle withdrawn library books that we sell on Amazon and donate the net profits to a house charity to create school classrooms in KwaZulu-Natal. Summer is also about preparing for the autumn so I’ll be thinking about recruitment, too.

Do you have plans for the summer? I’m going over to Moscow at the end of July to work in the Biblio-Globus bookshop for three weeks. I’ve just completed my degree in Russian so it will be good practice.

Books, T-shirts and hoodies
Why are bookshops important? I feel quite passionate that the relationship you have with customers and the service that you give them is incredibly valuabl. I see that becoming less and less important for some customers, with price being the critical factor in where to buy, and with the brick and mortar shops being used as a shop window. It’s the stuff of sleepless nights. We are part of the academic community and we offer the kind of general help, advice and support that students won’t get from Amazon.

How would you describe the current state of the book trade? The academic trade is in a state of complete flux. What will happen when the new fee structure comes in? Will academic institutions start to think of books and bookshops as important in terms of the ‘Student Experience’ and actually provide resources for students? Can we play a part in this process with some of the £9,000 fee ring-fenced for books? If we are not given that kind of support, I think that the whole campus bookshop thing is going to go into serious decline – it is that serious. We need to work locally with our own institutions, but smaller campus shops will need the support of outside help, including from the BA and publishers. It seems to me that it could go one way or the other: either we become a thriving part of the trade or we just shuffle off and die! Students want e-books, but they want the physical stuff as well.

Do you compete with the multiples? Our main competitor is Amazon, but we also compete with the Nutri Centre who have a partnership with Tesco and sell books on alternative medicine and nutrition with big very discounts for students, which is a huge problem for us. We compete by offering students a book account, whereby they put in £100 and we add £15. We also have a second-hand book scheme through which students can sell their books.

2nd-hand book scheme

What aspect of the business do you most enjoy? The variety of things to do. And I still like to unpack a box!

Are there any aspects you dislike? Not being involved in decision-making processes at university that relate to books. I dislike returning books, because we are really concerned about environmental things at the moment. However, we couldn’t function without returns. We have to take in more stock at the beginning of term than we might need because if we don’t have a book, students will go to Amazon.

Do you organise events? We have in-store book launches for academics and we also arrange events outside, such as providing the books for an Ezra Pound conference at the University of London.

What has been this year’s bestseller? A business strategy (custom) text book that was compiled specifically for that module by a Westminster academic.

What advice would you give to someone considering opening a new bookshop? Be absolutely sure of your market. The other key things to consider are location and getting your finances in place, especially cash flow. Shop hard for a bank, as they can sell you a lot of products you neither need nor want.

Batch and Your Business

How does Batch help your business? We have been using Batch Payments for years and now that we’re using Batch Returns as well it’s hard to know how we managed without it. Batch Returns is brilliant: it saves us an enormous amount of time and it’s great from an environmental point of view. It’s so efficient and it cuts down on the frustration involved in the communication flow.

Is there anything Batch could do to make your life easier? Get those publishers who aren’t already on Batch to join.

What BA services do you find useful? The Lloyds TSB credit card service, the insurance provided by Willis Limited and the BA helpline. I’d like to see if there is some way of adapting the IndieBound promotional material, as there is nothing specifically for academic booksellers. I can’t do anything for Indie Week because it’s in September, when we are really busy.


Cavendish Bookshop
115 New Cavendish Street
London W1W 6UW
Tel 020 7915 5432

Marylebone Bookshop
35 Marylebone Road
London NW1 5LS
Tel 020 7911 5049

Jacqui Gadd was speaking to Janet Ravenscroft