The last twenty years have seen a massive decline in independent bookshops but here in a corner of Cornwall one is flourishing.
Another 67 bookshops closed in 2013, leaving just 987 in 2014 across the country. In 2005, the figure was 1,535. A third of all UK bookshops have closed in the past 10 years and yet here we are.
Founded in 2002, we started selling books online via a newcomer called Amazon. We were so successful doing this that we needed to find somewhere to store the books, so we rented a room below the Manor House dentist’s. We opened the door and contrary to all the news stories that no one wanted bookshops any more, people walked in. When the dentist needed to expand we moved out to the weighbridge in Charlestown which was lovely but tiny and so we started to look around for a permanent home. Hello Mevagissey.
During this this time we have weathered a global recession, austerity cuts, the rise in kindle and e-books and the continuing growth of Amazon and like a little Cornish limpet we have hung on in there. Since 2006 we have grown from a second-hand bookshop to a mix of new, used and well loved. We have published books, Losing it in Cornwall and Scribbles from the Edge, others are on the way. We’ve held many wonderful signing events with EV Thompson, made friends with lots of great authors and supported many new writers.
Hurley Books is now an established feature of Mevagissey and every year people return to stand in front of our famous black board to try to solve our puzzles. We have done this with the help and support of great staff and wonderful family and ultimately from the customers that walk in the door.
Join us on the 2nd where we will be launching a wide range of promotions throughout the month of December.
I love books, let me tell you, no one loves books more that I do. Everyone tells me I have great books, I don’t know, but it’s what people tell me. And those books? Great books by the way. They are written by great authors, the very best, let me tell you, seriously, we have gathered the very best books together. Fantastic books and together we are going to make Christmas great again.
What about a signed first edition signed by the very best people. Trust me I know them and they are the best. What about Ann Cleeves? She writes the best crime fiction ever and what about Michelle Paver, she tells the very best scary stories and trust me I should know. How about Stef Penney, what a knock out! Great women, I love these women and no one loves women more than me, let me tell you. We’ve even got the latest signed Ben Aaronovich. Numbers are limited for all these so be quick.
How about children’s books? Let me tell you I’ve heard about children, I understand they are really great. Fantastic people,and they will love these books. Of course you will have to buy these for them but I can tell you that if you do that will make you the best, the very best. If you like surprises, and who doesn’t, especially when they can be just so surprising, then try some of our pop ups. Or what about That’s Not My Penguin. Great books. Really. Trust me,we are going to make Christmas great again.
Fact books, fun books, flipping fabulous books. We have them all. It’s going to be great!
Recently we’ve been branching out, investigating new idea, playing around and one of the things I’ve done is set up a publishing house. Doesn’t that sound grand?
The whole reason behind it was that I wanted to collect all my newspaper columns together and then get them published. I sent off my first collection to a publisher who promptly failed to return my enquiry and so I took that rejection as an indicator of my abject rubbishness and gave up. A week later I decided that that was rubbish and I’d publish them myself. Half a year later I now know why people prefer agents and publishers, this is so long winded and for complete beginners it’s full of problems.
I’m not saying that it’s akin to curing Small Pox but the learning curve has been steep. In order to print the book I needed to get the text ready for print and design a book cover. So I had to learn how to use publishing software to design a cover. I tried to do this but discovered my talents and patience were not up to the job and so I got in touch with a few designers with my brief in mind. After a month or two and some money gone I realised that to get the cover I wanted that I would have to spend a lot more money. Couldn’t afford that so back to the actual drawing board. I found an image I loved and sent off for permission to use it and then waited an age for a reply. Gradually things inched forward.
The next step was to get an ISBN, again not straightforwards and in order to buy an ISBN you have to be a publisher and buy them in sets of 10. So Mudlark’s was born. More months of what to call it, where to put the apostrophe, what should the logo look like and so on.
Finally it was time to submit the book file and jacket file for publishing. I had chosen two printers so that I could compare having shopped around for the best prices for small print runs. I went with Amazon’s in-house company Create Space and Ingram Spark, a huge printing company with an excellent reputation. My proof came back from Amazon within a fortnight, all looked good but apparently Ingram were the better company so I want to check their version. the problem was that they kept rejecting my cover file. Month after month the computer just rejected my file, every time I made the requested changes but no joy. Months and I mean months later my file was accepted and the proof was printed and sent off to me. It arrived and I couldn’t believe it but on one of my revisions I had hidden my name and had become so margins focused (the main issue) that I had missed the bigger picture. MUCH swearing ensued. I unhid my name and resubmitted the file to discover, ho ho ha ha, revisions after a proof had been printed cost $50. I looked at the two proofs but could see very little discernible difference. If anything, I preferred the Create Space version. So that was that, many months of delay, for nothing except frustrated tears. Yes I’m sure I learnt something, probably that I’m a lousy proof reader but I already knew that.
And here we are today. 50 copies on order. Soon to be for sale in the shop and book two, another collection of essays, is underway. Then I plan on writing a collection of walks in the Mevagissey area and a short history of Meva, nothing earth shattering but it will provide me with new challenges. No idea how to do the columns layout. Beginning to quail even thinking about it.
Recently invitations were issued to apply for The Independent Bookshop of the Year Award. We had a go at this a few years ago and made it to the shortlist. We polished everything up, made it look really shiny and submitted our entry. We didn’t get any further than the shortlist and in all honesty we didn’t expect to because we were nowhere near the standard of at least one other name in our region who not only went on the win the region and, unsurprisingly, the national award as well.
Even had they not been in the running all the others were still doing a better job than us, in terms of the competition criteria. That’s the crunch really. We don’t do author events, reading groups, school visits, outreach workshops etc etc etc. We don’t bang our drum, wave our flag or do much at all with the community. Call me old fashioned but I think those are the functions of a library. Don’t get me wrong I don’t think a bookshop shouldn’t do them and when they do it’s pretty great if it works for all parties. Fundamentally though, the party it needs to work for most is the bookshop. I know this is going to sound horribly mercantile and quite frankly a bit grubby but bookshops are there to make money and thus stay in business. That’s pretty much as bottom line as it gets. Everything else is window dressing. If that window dressing brings you more customers, spreads the word, then great. If that window dressing costs you more time and money than it creates then why are you doing it?
Bookshops are going out of business and we are all facing tough times. We have to be ever more careful about how we function as it doesn’t take much to shut us down. We don’t owe it to our communities, our customers, our authors or our bank managers to stay in business but to ourselves, first and foremost.
For Hurley Books this means providing great service, selecting stock very carefully and watching our profit margins. I think we do a good job and that we are a great bookshop but this brings me back to the first point; we are not good in terms of the awards criteria. So I decided to apply again this year without the polish and shiny in order to put a voice out there for all the hard working quiet bookshops.
This was our application. We didn’t get shortlisted 🙂
Our application isn’t going to look great but bear with us and you’ll see why we have bothered
Welcome to Hurley Books. We are a independent bookshop in Mevagissey, a small fishing village on the Cornish south coast. It is owned and run by myself and my husband, Liz and Steve Hurley, and a range of staff, currently two excellent part timers. We work with Emma and Jane, who provide a friendly and informative service. We are all book readers and all have different backgrounds and tastes, we work hard, we enjoy our jobs and we love where we live. None of us are overly bothered by fashion or trends. The atmosphere is friendly, warm and not intrusive. We offer assistance but we neither hover nor ignore our customers. We have been in business for the past 14 years, moving to Mevagissey nine years ago where we have settled down nicely.
We stock new, second hand, collectables and ephemera. Our balance is probably 30 / 70 new to old. Our new stock reflects our location and the desires of our customers plus a dollop of stuff that we find interesting and would like to share. Our second hand stock is pretty eclectic, although well laid out. As a professional librarian I have always loved order, as a lover of old bookshops Steve has always preferred chaos but somehow we find a comfortable middle ground. New shinny stock is in the front of the shop, old curious stuff is out the back.
Our website is www.hurleybooks.co.uk which we use to post our blogs and links to our online shops on Amazon and eBay. It is a useful tool but our main form of online communication with our customers is our Face Book page /hurleybooks. We also tweet @hurleybooks.
Our opening hours expand and contract like the tide. In summer we are open 7 days a week from 9 a.m. ’til 9 p.m. In winter, it’s Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m. ’til 4 p.m. We are enormously influenced by the tourist trade, in winter the resident population of Mevagissey is far too small to support a bookshop and much as we like our villagers we would be fools to rely on them. Not because they would be unwilling to support us and indeed they do but there just aren’t enough of them.
In fact it is not their place to support us. We are not a charity nor an essential service. If we can’t survive on our own two feet then we need to bow out.
Marketing and promotions. Yeah, we don’t do that.
Community outreach. Yeah, we don’t do that either.
Loyalty Cards?No. Author events? Nope. Reading Groups? Nope. Local Hub? No, no, no. We’re rubbish aren’t we and yet we exist.
We do more than exist. We thrive. We flourish and grow. Actually we do do the odd event, if someone asks us to help out launch a book then of course we are there to help. If they need advice on publishing a book we go through the steps with them. If people need a new reading list we set something up for them. when a new book comes out and we think it has someone’s name all over it we get in touch with them. We find our customers their next book, we offer a warm friendly space to just browse and buy if they want. Sometimes it’s enough to just try and solve our blackboard puzzles or come in and sit out of the rain. Dogs are welcomed but not ice creams.
We offer a range of stock at all price points on a wide range of subjects. We happily offer discounts when asked but not always and sometimes we give free books and comics when not asked just because they were lovely customers. We also have a great relationship with our local authors, supporting and promoting them as much as we can.
Don’t get me wrong, we do get awful customers, who doesn’t, but the majority are great and some are priceless. In fact I have asked our online community to tell us what they make of us going for this award and goodness me they made us blush. We didn’t ask our customers in the physical shop because that would just have been too embarrassing. A transaction in a small bookshop is intimate enough as it is, asking them to rate us as well would just be uncomfortable.
Here’s what our online community had to say.
There’s also a thread on this subject on the 6th of February. By all means have a browse through our face book page posts and photos, it might give you more of a feel for us.
I could send you clippings of a glossy magazine book group that we hosted. The EV Thompson fan base that we ran until his death. The time we gave free copies of Rebecca to the fishermen. Or coverage in the national press about our dog biscuits. The radio show that we sponsored. I could tell you about the publishing company that I am in the process I’m setting up. Or the bookbinding that I do. We could show you photos of author signings, but all these things are few and far between and don’t offer a true reflection of our everyday existence.
So this is why we have entered because we want to offer an alternative view of what a successful, popular bookshop can be. It doesn’t have to be the one with a regular and exciting calendar of events, with strong out-reach community ties but one that knows itself and just gets on with being that.
Highlights of the Year
·Reading the amazing comments from our customers.
·The fact that another year has passed where we have not woken up one single day and thought “ugh work”
·Discoveringa collection of letters from HRH Edward VIII written at the beginning of the first world war, amongst a collection of school reports bought in auction.
·Meeting an American FB fan, who made a point of coming to Cornwall when she was on holiday in the UK to say Hi!
·Receiving my ISBNs for Mudlarks Press
·Learning how to book bind.
·Watching a lady jive in the shop when she thought no one was watching.
Of course we all love books but sometimes we also sell books by the yard, so to speak. Previous clients have included the Eden Project, The Eden Cafe, La Cote and we also provided all the books for the Richard Curtis film “About Time” as well as a German production of Peter Pan.
We have seen our books transformed into chairs, flying bird installations or as simple beautiful props. Working on the About Time project was fun but pulling 1000 books together on a visual theme in just a week was a big ask but we did it.
Flying books in the Eden cafe in St Austell – very Harry Potter
We have also provided the library for the Scarlet Hotel as well as Bedruthan, in both cases we were given a few titles and then asked to build collections around those themes. Again, these were really enjoyable projects as they appealed to my previous incarnation of Librarian.
Getting some books together.
So if you ever need a shelf of pretty books, or a load of books that will be carved up or need a whole library built up please get in touch. we love projects like this and can generally pull something out of the bag.
All those books and many, many more came from Hurley Books!
Pretty props in a pretty shop – La Cote, Mevagissey
Hurley Books is undergoing a bit of a transformation. We are moving the warehouse into the rear of the shop and turning the front of the shop into a new bookshop. We are also re-launching our website so that you will find shopping online with us a bit easier.
The first noticeable effect is that the bricks and mortar shop will be closed all next week whilst we start moving stock around. Hurley Books online will go off the air for a few days, hopefully over the weekend. The following week, October 7th we hope to open but let’s be honest we will be moving around 10 000 books it may not go according to plan.
There will be a further shop closure when we start knocking things down but our carpenter has just torn his shoulder and as we would rather work with him we are happy to wait until he is fixed. This was due to happen next week but it can wait. What it does mean is that for a while the new layout will look a bit odd. Please bear with us.
There are obvious upsides and downsides to this. The shop will now open all year round as Steve or I will always be in managing the online operations, ordering will be faster, communications will be better and the range of items we sell will be vastly improved. The downside of this is that we will lose our lovely staff. Pauline will continue to run our weekends, Kim will no doubt still help out on high days and holidays and Jan will get to put her feet up for a bit. They, and previous staff have all been wonderful and we will miss them.
There’s no doubting that these are tricky times for bookshops but Hurley Books has always risen, like cream, to the top of any situation and I look forward to all your support and understanding over the next few months.
It looks as if our website has been causing confusion so I’ve given it a few tweaks and whilst I’m at it I may as well remind everyone what we’re about.
We are a second hand bookshop. We also sell books online. We also have a sibling called The Cornish Bookshop. In our bricks and mortar shop you can find a wide range of good quality second hand books. Occasionally we carry some new titles (Harry Potter for example) and we have a small selection of new Cornish titles. Customers will sometimes ask us to order books for them, we will search for the cheapest and quickest that we can find. Often this means we use Amazon. By and large our customers understand this and aren’t bothered. Those that don’t like Amazon ask us not to order from them and we don’t. We have lots of local and national wholesalers who we support but generally only for bulk orders, our discounts with them are low as we are a second hand book shop and don’t place enough large orders with them, which is understandable.
The books we sell online are on Amazon, eBay, ABE and Alibris and stored in our warehouse. We don’t handle these sales directly as we couldn’t afford the fees for hosting our own site. Plus not enough people would visit our personal site to make it worthwhile. After all what are the chances that we will have the second hand copy of the book that you are looking for?
We have set up The Cornish Bookshop as a specialist site to help authors and publishers find an outlet for their books that doesn’t cost them the earth. Amazon demand around 60% discount from the author / publisher to stock their titles which is really harsh, especially when we are talking about low print runs and small profit margins. The Cornish Bookshop as well as having its own site is also on the Amazon market place. Confusing? Not really. What it means is that for a small commission we get to sell these specialist titles to an enormous audience and the authors don’t have to pay the 60% fees. (You see there’s a lot going on behind the scenes).
We have a website (you’re on it) where we just like to pull all the strands together. You can see the books we have in the warehouse if you go to our eBay home. On the Amazon link you can shop to your heart’s content and we receive a little commission so you are still helping a local independent bookshop. Or you can browse our Cornish titles and support the local economy. Finally you can flip over to our Facebook page and see what’s happening in the bricks and mortar shop.
Our views on Amazon. We understand that people want to support local bookshops and we love you for it but we do get surprised when sometimes people expect us to hate Amazon. We’re all booksellers and just because they do it better than us doesn’t mean that we’re going to snub them (let’s leave the tax issues to one side for now). What Amazon can’t do as well as us is offer a friendly informal chat but honestly people don’t value that so much and that’s OK we know the market that we’re working in.
Our views on Kindle et al. Well, this is a whole new ball game. As a bookseller I’m pretty much out of the loop because of the directness of the download. I can live with that, the market for physical books is going to get smaller and tougher but Hurley Books is fine. After all we’re second hand and specialist Cornish. We’ll be around for a long time yet!
It’s our birthday! Hurley Books first started trading formerly in November 2002. A website called Amazon had just opened up part of its site to second hand sales.Steve and I knew all about books and about selling them, I was a librarian and he had supplemented his college years by selling books on market stalls and fairs.Being a librarian I was pretty clued up on how important the internet would be and so I suggested that we gave it a go.At eleven o’ clock that night Stephen dashed into the bedroom.Now given that our two boys were 1 and 3 my sleep was precious to me and unless there was a problem with one of the children this had better be good.In Steve’s eye it was better than good it was miraculous. We had just sold a Mary Jane Staples for £5.87, a book he would take ages to sell on the market stall.I was less than impressed, I knew it would work, we see it all the time in libraries. People love their authors and are desperate to read everything by them, once a book goes out of print it becomes harder for them to read. Simple supply and demand.At this point both our eyes glazed over, mine through exhaustion and Steve’s through amazement.
Since then Hurley Books has grown quietly and slowly. We were able to give up our jobs and we opened a little shop in St Austell.People began to walk in through the front door. We began selling face to face as well as online. After a year the dentist needed to expand and we moved to Charlestown.Now I have to say, hand on heart that I have never enjoyed my job so much as when I was perched on a wooden stool listening to Seth Lakeman and looking out over the tall ships and the sea beyond.I could have happily sat there day in day out, the most contented person ever without seeing a single customers but once again (thankfully) they turned up.
Finally we took the plunge and in a high risk strategy (well for us anyway) we bought our own place in Mevagissey and took on a warehouse in Par. Suddenly we were shop owners and our home no longer looked like the British Library.That was five years ago on December 2nd.
Mevagissey has been a great success for us; it’s given us stability, income and a great sense of community.Each year we have tried out new things to stay ahead of the game, book selling is not an easy business at the moment and last year, in December again, we launched The Cornish Bookshop, a website focusing on Cornish books and the like. I’m thrilled to say we have loads of support for this venture and I’m looking forward to seeing how it develops.
So we are 9 years old; we have been in Mevagissey for 5 years and the Cornish Bookshop has passed its first milestone.Now, it goes without saying that we couldn’t have done it without you so we are most cordially inviting you to come and join us Staurday 3rd, EV Thompson will be with us signing his new book and we’ll be serving mince pies and wine throughout the day. Call us on 01726 825245 to reserve a copy. Fingers crossed the scaffolding will be down and you can admire our newly painted shop as we put on our best bib and tucker.It’s also the Christmas Lights in Mevagissey that day so there’ll be loads of things going on.Please come and join us, it wouldn’t be the same without you!
Now some of you observant readers may, by now, have realised that we have a bookshop. In Mevagissey. Near the harbour. Hurley Books it’s called. This is not the time or the place to mention it. That would be unfair and an abuse of my position. But, I was thinking the other day that in 10 years of trading we haven’t had many celebs buying their tomes from us. The more I thought about it however, the more I realised that I was wrong. We’ve had our fair share. Probably the most well known was Griff Rhys Jones who called into our shop when we were in Charlestown to buy a local guide.
Steve once served the lady who co presents “How clean is your house” on TV. Aggie MacKenzie. He didn’t recognise her of course, probably because she is a middle aged woman who presents a cleaning programme and has no connection with football. After she had left and I told him who it was his only comment was “Oh, do you think we passed?” Probably not.
We’ve yet to get a film star in, although Johnny Depp was a distinct possibility when he was filming in Charlestown. As was Mel Gibson when he, allegedly, paid a visit to the area when directing “Apocalyto”. They both evaded our clutches, clearly not big readers.
There has been the odd brush with royalty. Edward’s wife was in Mevagissey recently and walked past our shop. She even looked in but, alas, did not cross the threshold. We did once send a book, ordered on the internet, to Buckingham Palace. It may have been ordered on behalf of the Queen so who knows we could be by Royal Appointment? We also send out to some pretty famous names via our online business. However, given that I am Liz Hurley a name doesn’t necessarily mean what it might suggest.
And let’s not forget the infamous. Several times have we sent books to prisons. I have no idea what the purchasers had done to land themselves in jail but what better way to pass the time than with a good book. Perhaps the thickness of the book is an indication of the crime. “War and Peace”, must be in for murder, “Animal Farm” must be a looter.We’ve also sent a few to the Houses of Parliament but I wasn’t sure whether this group belonged to the former or the latter category!
The crème de la crème, though, are the literary celebs. They may not be as well known but we, in the book trade, tend to get dewy eyed when authors come a callin’. Colin Wilson, E V Thompson and Tessa Hainsworth are three of our regulars. Colin lives locally and is a prolific author covering a wide range of subjects. He shot to fame in the 60’s with his controversial book, “The Outsider”. E V Thompson is one of Cornwall’s best known authors with a huge following and Tessa, who gave up a high flying job in London, relocated to Cornwall to become a post woman. She has written 2 very popular books recounting her experiences.The real joy of authors though is that by and large we don’t know what they look like and that’s the sort of fame I like, respected for what you’ve written not what you look like.
That said it’s rumoured that Brad Pitt is in Cornwall and desperate for something good to read, so why not come down to our shop. You may catch a glimpse of him. We’re in Mevagissey. Right by the harbour. Hurley Books.
The joy of a digital world is that you can mess around with your image for a couple of hours and it costs you nothing. In a British frame of mind today so I’m waving the flag today. Tried black but prefer white. I have no doubt that come the Olympics one of these will turn up again!