Troubador Publishing’s directors Jane Rowland and Jeremy Thompson on their latest novel addition to direct sales channels
Why set up a mobile bookshop?
We are always looking for new and innovative ways to get our authors’ books to readers. We have robust sales through traditional book channels, at the discounts expected by the trade, and we try to balance that side of the business with making as many sales direct to customers as possible. This has largely consisted of selling via our websites and through newsletters.
Last year we wondered whether there was another, more original way to reach potential readers. We’d toyed with the idea of a pop-up bookshop over seasonal periods, but we wanted something different, while avoiding treading on the toes of the local independent bookshops that support us.
Where did you get the idea?
Inspiration came while attending a music festival in the summer. Our solution was to buy and convert a vintage Citroen H-van into a mobile bookshop: it’s fun, quirky and eye-catching. It showcases not only our author’s books, but also our companies’ services—it’s an advertising opportunity and a direct sales opportunity all in one vividly painted vehicle.
The Troubador Festival Bookshop took over a year to build, starting with a very decrepit van that had served out its time on a donkey farm in central France. During the transformation from rusting wreck to purpose-built bookshop, it was important to retain the classic corrugated bodywork and recognisable original features of this iconic van. Citroen H-vans have in recent times been converted into street food vans, but this was the first to be turned into a bookshop, and there were some technical challenges as a result. We needed to avoid weight issues, as the shelves are on one side; we needed storage and power, as it has to function as a genuine bookshop; and we needed a way to show off both our books and the van together to passing trade at events.
We were keen to avoid the feel of a mobile library, so instead the selling space is all outside, under a large side hatch. We’re not trying to replicate an impossibly tiny bookshop using the cramped inside. Once parked up, the whole side opens to reveal a jewel box of fantastic reads, all published via our imprints. The shelves have built-in LED lighting, which makes the van look glorious at night, too. We have additional selling space on tables in front—which are naturally more weather dependent!
How is it working?
The bookshop has already had a couple of soft launch outings to perfect the payment and operational systems, and this already given us some invaluable insights. As a publisher we can be removed from the hand-selling customer process that is so natural in bookshops. Having the Festival Bookshop at events and interacting with customers has taught us plenty about our stock, popular titles and genres, which is already feeding back into commissioning on our mainstream published books. It also makes it perfect for author events and promotions: we have the flexibility to hire the van out to authors or use it as a centrepiece in our own activity.
Importantly, it is also a fun, but practical way for our staff at every level and across all departments to get out and learn about bookselling, and see how the books they help produce are received. The van is currently staffed by employees, who put themselves forward for events, but during high season (May to September) it will be run by a dedicated manager employed specifically for this purpose, and will visit fairs, festivals and local events pretty much every weekend. Our diverse range of titles allows us to target specific events carefully—so for example, at an airshow we’ll showcase all our aviation titles, and at a food festival we’ll highlight our food and drink titles.
The conceptualization of the Festival Bookshop had several important aims: to generate more direct to customer sales; to help us target specific events tied to the main genres we produce that we were only previously reaching digitally; for our Matador titles, to go further than any other self-publishing company to sell our authors’ books; and all while promoting and advertising the Troubador companies and their books.
The bookshop is very social media friendly and attracts attention wherever it goes. The van’s beautifully hand-painted slogan says: ‘Troubador Festival Bookshop—with all the best stories on board’, and we’re delighted to use this innovative solution get our authors’ stories out there in front of new customers.
You can find more information about the Troubador Festival Bookshop here.