BEWLEYBOOKS+: BA calls for trade support as bookshops gear up for 15th June reopening
Updated: Jun 24
The Booksellers Association has called for publishers to support the sector in getting back to business after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced yesterday (25th May) that stores could reopen from 15th June.
The Prime Minister said outdoor markets and car showrooms would reopen from 1st June, followed by all other “non-essential” retailers, including bookshops, two weeks later provided they were Covid-19 secure.
He added the reopenings still hinged on whether the UK continued to make progress in its fight against coronavirus. Shops will also only be able to raise the shutters if they have completed a risk assessment and have followed coronavirus guidelines in line with health and safety legislation.
The government has now issued updated guidance which it said was based on best practice by retailers that remained open, introducing social distancing measures in store.
It includes storing returned items for 72 hours before putting them back out on the shop floor and frequent cleaning of objects or surfaces that are touched regularly. Getting customers to use hand sanitiser on entering the shop, limiting numbers and “encouraging customers to avoid handling products whilst browsing, if at all possible” are also among the suggestions. In what could be a challenge for bookshops, the guidance also suggests “limiting customer handling of merchandise, for example, through different display methods, new signage or rotation of high-touch stock.”
Johnson said: “Shops now have the time to implement this guidance before they reopen. This will ensure there can be no doubt about what steps they should take."
Bookshops had been left waiting after Johnson previously announced some retailers would be able to reopen from 1st June. Last week, the Booksellers Association (BA) stressed its frustration at the delay in getting clarity on the sector's reopening date.
After last night's announcement, m.d. Meryl Halls said: “Booksellers will understandably each take their own view on when they want to safely reopen their doors, and the BA is ready and able to help members whenever they decide to do so, with our reopening kit, our resource and our third party advice lines. It’s important for all booksellers to feel confident that they can calmly make their own decision about reopening, depending on their business context and personal situation.”
The BA has now called for help from the trade following its recent survey of members that showed just over three quarters were currently operating in some reduced capacity with the remainder closed for all business. Those partially trading were doing so at an average of 20% of their usual turnover.
It is asking for extended returns windows and a flexible approach to returns, free shipping for bookshop orders, grace periods on payment of invoices, extended credit terms and increased discounts on frontlist orders and creative approaches to shared markdowns on old stock, to avoid returns gluts. It has also suggested redeployment of reps as a conduit between publishing houses and booksellers, provision of information on best practice and processes for booksellers from distributors and actively prioritising high street retailers in online book promotion by linking to retailers other than Amazon.
Halls said: “Covid-19 represents the biggest existential crisis bookselling has ever faced, and while we are of course grateful for the immediate support the publishing community has provided to high street bookshops, there is more that needs to be done going forward if bookshops are to return to trading successfully. Booksellers have shown incredible resilience and creativity in continuing operations during lockdown, however without significant support and understanding from the wider industry, bookselling may well face an uncertain future, which can only damage the trade as a whole. While the realities of a post-Covid world remain uncertain, by working together and recognising the importance of a varied and diverse retail landscape, the book industry can ensure that it is a world in which both publishing and bookselling can thrive.”
The government said last night “tough powers” were available to enforce its guidelines, including fines and jail sentences of up to two years.
Business Secretary Alok Sharma said: “The high street sits at the heart of every community in the country. Enabling these businesses to open will be a critical step on the road to rebuilding our economy, and will support millions of jobs across the UK.
“The guidance we have set out today provides a vital framework to get shops open in a way that is safe for everyone. It explains how retail workers who are not currently working can go back to work as safely as possible and feel confident in their workplace. And it reassures customers that shops are properly assessing the risks and putting in place measures to protect them.”
A recent survey for this magazine showed 40% of booksellers wanted to reopen to next month, with the rest either against the idea or unsure.
Kaye is a freelance publisher, author and certified psychotherapist with over three decades of experience. She is also a writer for various blogs about writing, publishing, travelling and health care.
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