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Ether for Authors: Framing #FutureFoyles in London

28 February 2013

From Publishing Perspectives:

Here is one thing no one will deny about the events hashtagged #FutureFoyles in London: here was unabashed dedication, enthusiasm, love and hope — loud, rackety, even strident love and hope — all transacted in a joyous din under the beams of Foyles’ third-floor gallery.

On the 11th and 15th of February, Philip Jonesand his Bookseller team and Miriam Robinson, marketing director for the hulking, fading landmark Foyles bookstore in Charing Cross Road, held six-hour workshops intended to shake loose the best ideas for the “bookshop of the future.”

Foyles is to move next door into the more capacious former St. Martin’s College of Art space. At first glance, this suggests that the old rooms-and-rooms-of-books-and-books format is yielding no quarter.

. . . .

Foyles is a very big independent store groaning as the marketplace hovers daily higher above the high street, in cyberspace. It has its flagship corner location in Charing Cross and, by my count, five other locations, the farthest afield in Bristol. Exactly as with bookstores in the States, its business isn’t walking away, it’s clicking away. Londoners are shopping in Seattle. Amazonia can outdo even Foyles’ reported stock of some 200,000 physical titles. And Amazon delivers. And Amazon offers great prices. And Amazon has achieved stunning heights of customer service. We all know this story.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives and thanks to Geoff for the tip.


9 Comments to “Ether for Authors: Framing #FutureFoyles in London”

  1. P.G.

    If Amazon killed even Foyles, that would be a hard blow.

    What made Foyles special wasn’t so much the books, it was that they trusted their customers. They’d order in the most outlandish (expensive) books for me just on my surname.

    I’d get a phone call three weeks later, “Mr Stallard, your book is in.” I’d roll across the smoke, pick it up, browse and snag. Then have lunch at the Mandeer off Tottenham Court Road.

    Redolent of Brideshead Revisited, some of the most charming and elegiac memories of my salad days.


  2. I would be crushed if Foyles ever went under. I haven’t been there yet, because I was only in London 2 days a few years ago, but I’m going in May, and it’s the kind of bookshop I know I could spend hours (days?) in. 🙂

    • “I’m going in May”


      Snap. (If the rain stops.)

      If you see a hideous old tramp standing next to the tills keening for a discount….eyeing up all the pretty young things, wearing Rohan….

      It’ll be me, RUN! 🙂


    • I visited Foyles back in 1984, bought at least £100 of books I couldn’t get in the US at the time (& which I couldn’t afford), & thoroughly enjoyed the place. I also had a chuckle when one of the matters taken seriously was the problem of getting people into the physical store. (Are you listening, Barnes & Noble?)

      I wonder why they & Powell’s Books don’t trade ideas (e.g., have a distribution agreement for each other on their respective sides of the Atlantic): after all, they are not direct competitors & face common problems & challenges. But then, I don’t run a bookstore.

  3. “Who isn’t tired of the dumb-as-a-post book shopper who seems to know nothing about the plight of the industry that he or she patronizes?”


    Yes, yes. I too loved several bookstores from my youth to just recently. But this comment? This comment makes me think that the bookstores are as dim as traditional publishers.

    I do not need a bookseller telling me I’m dumb-as-a-post. And I don’t really care about their plight. All I care about is good stories.

    • Book “professionals” never fail to surprise me with their cluelessness about consumer psychology and behavior. No wonder they’re helpless in a truly competitive environment with a bookseller (and seller of everything else) like Amazon.

      Does a grocer believe its customers should know anything about the grocery business? Does a pharmacy expect its customers to be knowledgeable about the drug business?

      What is so special about the business of bookselling that would make a reader interested in what is happening in the bookstore world? Books are a consumer good, like food and medicine. A customer wants a product and doesn’t really care much about how it is delivered to them.

      A consumer looking for a book is ultimately focused on being able to locate a book he/she will enjoy reading. Some consumers may place value on the ambiance of a particular physical bookstore while others may place value on the convenience of purchasing online from a much larger selection of books. It’s the vendor’s job to please the customer not the other way around.

      What we’re really dealing with is a dumb-as-a-post bookseller here.

  4. I too have a soft spot for Foyles, especially their old rambling shop over many floors, books piled high on the stairs, the building a Dickensian gothic extravaganza of hidden rooms. I think that building’s gone now, or redesigned at least, don’t get to London much these days.
    But blimey – for all its character, you should have tried finding a book in that place. Impossible. Contrast that to Amazon. I always think Amazon’s real advantage is that it’s so fast to find things you’re looking for, or just might be interested in. And that old Foyles store was the opposite extreme. Though some of the used bookstores at Hay-on-Wye might give them a run for their money.
    Oh, and um, blatant plug here, but I featured that old Foyles store in one of my novels. Two spies used the literary criticism section as a message drop-point – on the basis that the books there were never bought or sold, or even taken from the shelves.

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