In partnership with BBPlus and RISE Bookselling, EIBF hosts a group of international booksellers at this year's BCBF 2022
European and International Booksellers Federation this year launched a partnership with the BBPlus, an international arm of the Bologna Children's Book Fair, to host a group of European booksellers at this important industry event. Building on the RISE Bookselling programme, we invited 8 booksellers to join the Fair, establish new connections across the continent and improve knowledge sharing across borders.
Meet the booksellers
We organised a two-day conference dedicated to bookselling, which took part on 21 and 22 March 2022. The group included Trish Hennessy, owner of the Halfway up the Stairs Children’s Bookshop in Ireland, Hannah Rials, bookseller at Mr B's Emporium Of Reading Delights in United Kingdom, Maren Kleppen, bookseller at Per Magnussen Bokhandel in Norway, Raluca Selejan and Oana Doboși, co-founders and managing partners of La Două Bufnițe bookshop in Romania, as well as Livia Hector, a bookseller at La Două Bufnițe. Inara Belinkaja, Managing Director of Janis Roze bookshops in Latvia and Ainars Roze, Head of the Board for Janis Roze bookshops, completed the group.
Day 1: From insights into the Italian book market to the Ragazzi Award Ceremony
During the first day at the BCBF, the booksellers attended the Opening Ceremony of the Fair, followed by conference focusing on the Italian book market. Organised by the Italian Publishers Association, in collaboration with Italian Trade Agency and the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, the event spotlighting how the Italian book market fared in 2021 and compared the insights with figures from 2020 and 2019. During the event, we learnt that the Italian book market experienced unprecedented growth in 2021, with print book segment growing by 16%. This trend is reflected in many European countries, as shared by the Italian Publishers Association. However, the growth is not equal across all trade channels. Online sales, including those from physical bookshops, are continuing to increase.
The booksellers also had an opportunity to meet the BBPlus Author Ambassador Michèle Roberts, and exchanged opinions on literature in translation and their experience in stocking translated literature on their bookshelves. Maren Kleppen pointed out that many people are fluent in English in Norway, with people preferring to read books in original language if they are available.
In the afternoon, the booksellers had an opportunity to join a guided tour of the Fair, led by Isabella Del Monte, Product Specialist with the Bologna Children's Book Fair. After that, they explored the many bookshops in Bologna's town centre.
The evening finished with a gala ceremony, celebrating the winners of the Ragazzi Awards. Trish Hennessy stepped into the spotlight on the stage to present the award in the comic categories.
Day 2: From the SDG book club insights to promoting reading in vulnerable settings
The Tuesday programme kicked off with a panel on the SDG book club, where Raluca Selejan spoke about her experience in highlighting SDG themes in bookshops and how to approach the 'big topics' with children and their parents.
The booksellers then joined a seminar looking at obstacles to reading across the world. The event focused on regions and communities where access to books, bookshops and libraries is challenged - a situation which has been exacerbated globally by deepening social inequalities and the pandemic.
Booksellers panel: Living with books, living with Covid
In the afternoon, within the scope of the Bologna Book Plus programme, EIBF hosted a panel exploring how booksellers across Europe are dealing with pandemic-influenced changes to the industry. Speakers included Maren Kleppen, Hannah Rials and Raluca Selejan, while the event was moderated by the EIBF director Julie Belgrado.
In a 45-minute discussion, the speakers focused on three themes: how the pandemic impacted customer behaviour, how booksellers experienced the pandemic, and what lies ahead for the sector. In a contrast between the countries, Maren and Hannah highlighted how book sales in Norway and UK went up during the pandemic, which has not been the case for Romania, as shared by Raluca. In Norway, the Government encouraged citizens to turn to bookshops for home entertainment, which was an additional boost to the sector. However, in the second year of the pandemic, Norway experienced the first lockdown, and booksellers had to be creative to keep up with customers. Social media played an important role in keeping the interaction going: "Our customers give us tips, as much as we give them tips. That's how we grow as booksellers," said Maren during the panel, who works as a bookseller at Per Magnussen Bokhandel.
While many people found their love of reading again during the pandemic, many booksellers found they have less time to keep up with all the reading they were doing before. Hannah, a bookseller at Mr B's Emporium Of Reading Delights, said that during the lockdown, when the shop was closed, the team worked from home a few days, while other days they were in the store preparing the books to be shipped to customers. While normally, they might've filled their time with reading, in this situation, they focused on finding new ways to interact with their customers, such as providing book recommendations in a new format and hosting author interviews online: "We wanted to bring a lighted focus on the interview and at some point we were asking all the authors joining our calls what is one of the weirdest items they have in their houses - the answers were quite surprising," said Hannah.
The panel also looked at the future of bookselling, especially in light of the war in Ukraine. Raluca, who is a bookseller in Romania, explained how in their bookshop, the Two Owls in Timisoara, they started curating shelves focusing on how to talk about conflict, displacement and refugees with children. "We soon realised there aren't many books on these topics in Romanian," said Raluca, highlighting an important gap in children's literature.
The panel finished with the speakers giving practical tips to aspiring booksellers: "Wear comfortable shoes and talk with your customers," was the insight shared by Hannah.