News / City Life

Things you only know if you’re a London bookseller

Bookseller Paddy Butler at Libreria
Photograph: Andy Parsons

…according to Paddy Butler, 40.

A friendly vibe goes a long way

Traditionally, bookshops can look a bit forbidding. But we want Libreria to be somewhere people feel comfortable to come in and ask questions. Even if they’re just coming in to chat and read at first, a good energy will translate into sales ultimately.

Tech is a blessing and a curse

We’ve banned phones in the shop, and it’s not to stop people buying books on Amazon. We live in an age of constant digital interruption, and this is us giving people permission to get off their devices. Paradoxically, a modern bookseller always has to be shouting loudly on social media. We also rely on tech for stock management. It’s a nightmare keeping track of just 6,000 titles – I can’t imagine what it’s like working at Foyles with 200,000!

There’ll always be a demand for bookshops

Rents and rates have made it hard for people on the high street to survive, whatever it is they’re doing. But bookshops still make money because people like finding new reads by chance. There are fantastic specialist or secondhand bookshops all over London which are real Aladdin’s caves. No algorithm can replace that experience.

Customers are more diverse than you might think

Working in east London is the most heartening thing: young people from all backgrounds will come in and really respond to the books and the environment. One lad in his early twenties from the local Asian community walked in and just stared at the mirror optical illusion which makes our shop go on for ever. Eventually he said, “This place is sick… and I don’t even like books!”

Discover the winners of the Books Are My Bag Readers Awards, the only awards voted for by book lovers, from Tuesday November 13. Or get lost in London’s best bookshops.

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