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Bookbuster 39 Queen's Rd, Hastings

Bookbuster 39 Queen’s Rd, Hastings

Best Bookshops: Bookbuster, Queens Rd, Hastings

That’s right – not Blockbuster (past and gone), it’s book …book … Bookbuster (alive and exciting)! Tim Barton talks to Angela J. Phillip about what it’s like to run a small independent bookshop promoting poetry and offering book selections and interesting additional services to meet local needs.

When did you decide you wanted to start a bookshop and how did it come about? How did you choose the premises? And the name?

I worked in bookshops from 1986 to 1999, and, after being made redundant from the local college eight years ago, finding no jobs available, I decided to spend a bit of my unemployed time running a bookstall on the market. Still no work turned up, so I started looking for premises in the area.

I had called the stall Bluegreenearth Books, after a website I had started in 2000, and had intended to call the shop that. However, the unit that came available was the former Blockbuster and, when the sun hits it you can read the letters from down past the Town Hall. So, that visibility, plus being the ‘cheap option’ (I had zero to invest), led me to a light-bulb moment – call it Bookbuster! A friend helped to amend the sign – we repainted, and he took the metal letters L and C down, hacked part of the L off, screwed it to the C to make another O and put ’em back up!

Inside Bookbuster, Queens Rd, Hastings

Inside Bookbuster, Queens Rd, Hastings

Marvellous! I shall wander round Hastings and look for the Bookbuster sign with the light shining on it. Can you say a little bit about what kind of bookshop Bookbuster is? Will you stock any books or only certain kinds? Online offerings?

Bookbuster is a mix of primarily secondhand and ‘remainder’ books. Remainders are end-of-line and publisher clear-outs: basically brand new condition, but much cheaper. We also sell new books by local authors, greetings cards (many by local artists), and a few records, cds and dvds. Our range is across the board though we’ve more history and politics than most shops our size. We sell the higher-priced books on Amazon Marketplace, as the local market won’t bear it: though we do discount these titles to our local customers.

I know that you run Sheer Poetry and other literary events here. Could you tell us a little about them?

The poetry event is a monthly one: every third Thursday (except December). It is ‘open mic’ sans mic, and those attending can perform or just listen. Primarily, people offer their own work. It’s a friendly and no-pressure environment! All are welcome. Over the years we have run a few author signings, and even small gigs, though I’m not sure how we fitted them in! When Oudoline played I think there were five people in the band! Our events are advertised in the window and on Facebook, and sometimes in HIP (Hastings Independent) too.

Tim Barton

Tim Barton

What are the difficulties in running a bookshop like yours? And what makes it worthwhile?

The main difficulty is economic. Austerity has seen sales – which had been slowly building over the first couple of years trading – plummet. Many people suggest that online sales are the issue, but in truth they too are much lower each year. Towns like Hastings are also suffering from the lack of rent controls and the failure of government to revise Local Housing Allowance in line with rising rents – it’s a decade since the last revision! I’ve held on out of bloody-mindedness, but if the government force self-employed Working Tax Credit recipients like myself over to Universal Credit, as they plan, many retailers will be forced out of business. As to ‘worthwhile’? I may no longer be able to think of a reason!

Your answer to the last question makes me worry on behalf of book-buyers like myself. The answer, obviously, is to come to your shop to buy books so I hope we all do that. Perhaps you could you say a little about how you think reading habits have changed during the time you’ve been involved in the book trade. What do these changes mean for writers, publishers and booksellers?

Saleswise, the biggest change has been that traditional non-fiction bestsellers, such as Cookery, Health, Gardening and Sports, have ground to a virtual halt. The relatively high number of foreign language students in Hastings has led to higher sales in Classics and Poetry than one would expect, but as their numbers are dwindling, so are the sales. Nonetheless, we stock most of the Wordsworth Editions classics range. Romance fiction is hard to sell, which surprised me. Also, I expected bumper sales in children’s books, I’ve never worked anywhere they weren’t buoyant, from Weston-Super-Mare, to Worthing, Harlow to Holloway, Kensington to Caterham: but here? Shockingly quiet!

Bookbuster selection

Bookbuster selection

What you are saying suggests that people including children are reading less. What about the book trade generally?

In terms of the trade as a whole, author to publisher to shop to punter, the changes have been unremittingly negative. The removal of the ‘net book agreement’ (agreement of fixed price between publishers and booksellers) coupled with the rise of the wholesale distributors, both in the ’90s, did incredible damage that the trade has not recovered from. Margins are so tight new authors get little chance to ‘give it a go’ unless they’ve already perfected their craft, and have an agent; publishers pay less, and no longer can deal with ‘slush piles’.

‘Rrp’ (recommended retail price) rose rapidly as publishers tried to make the swingeing discounts they had to offer to big companies viable, whilst small retailers crashed & burned as they couldn’t offer competitive pricing. I opted for remainders as this market bypasses the worst price issues. I’d worked in remainder stores in London, loved Judd’s (near Russell Square) with their upmarket and academic stock, and, after the excellent local remainder store, Olio’s (more mainstream), closed I thought it was worth pitching a remainder store stocking a range somewhere between the two. Indeed, Hastings is a good market for interesting and ‘fringe’ books, it’s a shame that the economy is crashing.

This is an interesting summary of changes in the book-trade but it’s depressing. Are there any changes you might like to try? What would you like to achieve in the next five years?

If a certain chain-store in Priory Meadow hadn’t opened, I’d be slowly phasing out secondhand books, as there are amazing remainders out there, but as it is my plans are ‘on ice’. Unless the economy picks up (in my opinion that requires an end to austerity – which means a Labor-led government – and, frankly, averting Brexit), in five years I’ll be in real trouble, and doubt I’ll still be open. Hell, I already am. The store isn’t big enough to diversify much, and my collateral is nada, so… 😉

Relax in Bookbuster

Browse and relax in Bookbuster

If you went out of business, we would all lose. What’s the best thing about coming to Bookbusters?

We have an excellent range of books, and can order anything, in and out of print. This isn’t limited to books either! I’ve customers who won’t shop online as they are either not internet savvy, have no PC, or don’t trust online money transactions, so I have ordered everything from books to melatonin pills, via vinyl records and wind-up torches!

Wow!

Our prices are very competitive, so, although for the most part I can’t compete with charity shops, I have had customers, especially from out of town (for example, the Midlands, not just Londoners!) comment on how much cheaper I am than their shops, how much more interesting my range is, and I’ve even been ticked off as ‘too cheap’! I’m not, but it’s nice to hear, ‘lol’…

Yes, the last book I bought from your shop was such good value that I wondered if there had been a pricing mistake. Your shop is a delight and has an amazing range of subjects and titles – almost unbelievable for such a small place. Thank you, Tim, it has been a great pleasure to talk to you. I’m looking forward to your Sheer Poetry event on Thursday (June 20, 6 pm, entry £2). And it’s the Really Independent Bookshop week this week, too, (June 15 – 22) so please, dear HOT readers, come and support Bookbuster as well as the other independent bookshops. I shall definitely be there. 

for more information, please see:
Web: Bookbuster, 39 Queen’s Rd, Hastings
Facebook: Bookbuster, Queen’s Rd, Hastings

Others in the Best Bookshop series:
The Bookkeeper, King’s Rd, St Leonards
.
……….
Here’s the link to this week’s news and events – Bookchat: Writing is Dangerous (and events from June 18 onwards)

Thanks for reading. Hope to see you again next Tuesday.

Angela Phillip

All photos copyright Paul Way-Rider

 

Posted 09:00 Tuesday, Jun 18, 2019 In: Hastings Bookchat

2 Comments

Please read our comment guidelines before posting on HOT

  1. Ms.Doubtfire

    With so many wonderful events taking place in Hastings and St. Leonards there is an urgent need to petition the government to rescind their decision to change next years May Day Bank Holiday Monday to the Friday. The VE commemoration should be honoured and the May Day bank holiday should be left in situ.

    This decision will have serious problems for the organisers of the May Day festivities which have for so long been part of Hastings heritage. These events bring thousands of visitors to the town and boost the economy and small businesses. The motor cycle event is a countrywide event and increases every year with thousands of motor cyclists coming down here.
    Surely our MP recognises the disruption this alteration to the May Day bank holiday dates will cause?
    If the government can give a special days holiday for a royal wedding and at the same time retain the Bank Holiday Monday why can’t they do the same for this special commemorative day?
    No consideration has been given to all the companies who have already printed next years calendars.
    There is a government petition online which we must sign before September and we need more signatures for this to be accepted.

    Here is the link: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/242483?fbclid=IwAR3zIxdgS6FbfDQ1IYGs8abWNrYzoQ4t9EsxP11Atrr7DLQuJ9FbC5ytXhQ

    Comment by Ms.Doubtfire — Thursday, Jun 27, 2019 @ 18:10

  2. Tim Barton

    Thank you, Angie!
    Tim

    Comment by Tim Barton — Monday, Jun 24, 2019 @ 11:51

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