Keeping Your Independents


The literary pedigree of Dublin 4 is without question. Baggot St, still haunted by anecdotes of Patrick Kavanagh and the exploits of Brendan Behan, was home to the celebrated Parson’s Bookshop, which both writers frequented (often at varying times, so as to avoid one another) as did other literati such as Flan O’Brien.

Since those days however, the book trade has undergone a succession of changes. The consolidation of chains like Hodge’s and Figgis into franchises, the arrival from overseas of megastores like Borders and Waterstones, and then the advent of Amazon and internet buying have altered the business of book-selling into something of a blockbuster concern. NewsFour decided to investigate the state of independent book shops in the Dublin 4 district.

Books on the Green, of Sandymount Village, is owned and run by Brian O’Brien. He describes business currently as “quiet, but things are always quiet this time of year.” March carries over part of the February lull, he explains, things always fall off after Christmas. We asked how he marks the shop out from its competition.

“We stock games and toys, as well as books. A lot of local history which appeals to people in the area, of course, and we try and focus on providing a personal service.”

“In the past we have done special events, late night book launches and the like, but there hasn’t been much call for that lately. We miss the days of a cash cow like Harry Potter.”
Brian emphasises that the focus of his business is securing customer loyalty.

Hampton Books of Morehampton Road, Donnybrook similarily depends upon a reciprocal loyalty with its customer base. Owner John Keane explained “We don’t really have any special strategies to distinguish ourselves, other than to stock as broad a range of books as we can. We take orders from customers if they’re seeking a particular work, we have some very loyal regulars. We’re a small shop, so hosting events isn’t much of an option. But we’re hanging in there.”

The direct sales book trade is about more than just the high street. NewsFour’s last stop was the University College Dublin campus in Belfield, where we spoke with Philip Harvey, manager of the Campus Bookshop. Unsurprisingly, the Campus shop predominantly sells academic texts and specialist manuals. They also have access to Print-On-Demand facilities, allowing them to produce editions of certain books on spec, rather than order a minimum number of copies from distributors. “We don’t have much call for it at the moment but the service is there for those who wish to use it” .

Harvey explained that “there is little incentive for us to stock books for a general audience. The students need what they need and can get it here. If we were to stock, for example, a particular cookbook, we are losing out in the long run to sellers like Eason’s who also have a wholesale division. We might buy a shipment from them for 70% of cover price but their size and number of outlets means they can comfortably sell the same book at 40% of the cover price. So we end up paying them to out-sell us overall.”

How has the economic situation affected their sales?

“Comparatively little, since we are a specialist shop. Our competition comes from the Internet; Amazon discounts, e-books and students using online resources of questionable merit.”

The Campus Bookshop is the exception that proves the rule. Independent retailers of all sorts need support in these straitened times and the book trade in particular is seeking to trade loyalty for loyalty with its customers.

By Ruairi Coneely