We Sell Books: ‘Every book bought online impacts not just local business, but the community’

We Sell Books: ‘Every book bought online impacts not just local business, but the community’
Picture: Moya Nolan

Louisa Cameron owns Raven Books in Blackrock, Co Dublin. It sells new and second-hand books.

How long have you been in business?

We have just passed our 11th birthday. It’s kind of astonishing really. We opened in May 2008.

How did you become a bookseller?

A few years before that, I had taken what was going to be a year out in the States, and went to Vermont. 

I went into a bookshop to buy a journal, ended up with a job and stayed for four years. 

Once books get under your skin, it is very hard to do anything else. 

I would probably be unemployable in any other area at this point.

Why did you choose this particular location?

I’m from Monkstown originally but I had been living in Blackrock for a good while and I was familiar with the demographic at that point. 

One of the things I love about Blackrock is that it is a huge mix. From Monday to Friday, we have a lot of commuters coming in. 

In the 11 years we have been here, the Blackrock Industrial Park has developed hugely. 

There are lots of people in businesses coming down for lunch. Residents are a massive part of the business, particularly at the weekend. We get a lot of kids. 

One of our best customers, their eldest son was born the day before we opened so when he became an independent reader, that was a real milestone for me. 

To see him going from board books to picture books to early readers and then reading on his own, that was so exciting to see and makes you truly appreciate the impact you are having on somebody’s life just by existing as a business.

How has business been?

We opened about three months before everything tanked. So that was one of the challenges. 

I opened in a boom economy and had to survive in austerity. 

That was interesting and for all I know, actually benefited the business because people were watching their pennies and the second-hand business did really well. 

With the second-hand books, I get to see what people are actually reading. 

It is not just a marketing person with one of the big publishers saying what people should be reading. 

It is super helpful and really informs my buying.

How do you counter the challenge of online retailers?

It has been a huge education for me to see at a very micro level how local economy works and how literally every single book that is bought online or downloaded impacts not just local business but the community. 

Because we see the rates we pay to the local council and how that supports the library, for example. 

But I never knew that before and so I recognise equally that the majority of people are not aware of how that cycle works. 

So I try to be as gentle as possible in explaining that, to say ‘this is where your money is going and do you want it to essentially go back into the community or do you want it to go into Jeff Bezos’ pocket?’

The other thing with regard to online retail is books are something that are so personal, to play on that to a degree and recognise that there is a huge difference between buying a product online and buying a story that has been personally recommended and that could change your life in some way.

 

It is important to build that relationship with your customers. 

I’m super-fortunate to have built up a lovely relationship with a lot of our dedicated customers. 

It is a genuinely lovely community and you can’t buy that online. 

I often describe myself as a kind of a matchmaker in matching up stories and people.

You are fairly active on social media?

Yeah, I do like Twitter and it is very good for business. 

It reaches the local community and a broader geographical spread of people as well which is really nice. 

And other bookshops — there is a lovely bookshop community on Twitter which is very supportive of each other and it is really nice to be part of it.


Do you do book launches?

We don’t generally but as it happens, we did one a month ago for The Little Book of Blackrock, appropriately. 

We were so fortunate to have Feargal Quinn [former Senator and Superquinn boss] say a few words. 

He was reminiscing about growing up in Blackrock, remembering when the tram went through the village. 

Two weeks later, he died and it was just astonishing to have that sense of history right there.

It was really special and it was lovely to have the opportunity to speak to him because I remember when Superquinn was built in Blackrock.

It was really nice to be able to tell him the influence his approach to customers had on me as a child and how I held on to that.

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