Talking books - meet Jarrold's new book-buyer
PUBLISHED: 16:57 08 February 2019
Holly Ainley has recently been appointed the new book-buyer for Jarrold and after several years working behind-the-scenes in the industry, she couldn't be more excited to return to the shop floor.
It’s pretty clear as we sit down for a cup of tea in Jarrold’s that Holly Ainley loves books. And considering she has just been welcomed into the fold as the business’ new book buyer, I’d say that we are off to a good start.
Bookselling is not a new experience for Holly – her “first” proper job, she tells me, was as a bookseller at City Books in Hove and after a number of roles behind-the-scenes in the industry, returning to the shop floor is the thing she is most excited about. “It’s so customer-focused,” she says. “That’s what I’m really excited about coming back to. You know, you can chat to people about anything and really get to know them and their reading tastes.”
Since then, Holly has been a literary scout, editor for Harper Collins and marketing manager for an independent press, and it was through these various roles that she was first introduced to Norwich – and even to Jarrold’s former – and “trusted” – book buyer, Chris Rushby. “I first got to know Norwich because two of the authors I edited at Myriad Editions are based here: Benjamin Johncock and Sally Craythorne.
“Through that, I met the team at the National Centre for Writing and went to the UEA to talk to the students there and thought ‘oh, I really love it here’ – I had even met Chris when I was at Myriad, as I came in to sell him our titles!”
So when the job in Jarrold’s book department was advertised, it seemed a likely fit. “It was like everything had just aligned,” says Holly. “Norwich was calling - especially when I started thinking about the people I did know here in the literary world - I realised there was quite a few. To be here now just makes sense, and I feel really lucky.”
But taking on the role was certainly not for the faint of heart, as Holly’s first shifts happened just before Christmas. While it might have been the shop’s busiest time of year, it was, as it turned out, a blessing. “Jarrold was like a wonderland,” she says. “I felt like I’d just walked into Christmas! The amount of customers I was able to meet – and Chris was able to give me a really personal introduction to – and the amount of questions I had... The way it was handled felt very Jarrold – it was very nurturing and very welcoming.”
From meeting new customers to understanding the area through its shelves of local books, Holly’s enthusiasm for the role is a breath of fresh air amongst the gloom we often hear associated with the retail sector. This, she says, is because the book trade itself is encountering something of a shift. “In the past 12 months, The Bookseller reported that 15 new bookshops have opened, nationally – so there’s a clear resurgence,” she says. Figures from the Bookseller Association confirm this: 73pc of those who took part in the Christmas trading survey said that sales were up on last year.
To authors, publishers and readers, this is reassuring. But just a few years ago, we were faced with the ‘threat’ of the electronic book, and the suggestion that print, in all its forms, was dead – what changed? “People want a connection – they don’t want to just sit at home and buy everything online,” says Holly.
“They want to be able to come in and talk to someone and share. Books are about a shared experience, and people have really connected with that idea – that it’s about curation. To be here at a time when there’s an upturn and a kind of hopefulness about books and bookselling and the printed book – that’s exciting.”
Part of this rise – and, indeed, Holly’s role – is to make sure that the shop reflects what’s going on in the world around us. “Part of my daily routine is keeping up to date with the book trade news but also with the national and local news – it’s a real combination and that really feeds into what I’ll be buying. You want to reflect what’s happening.
“When the economy isn’t doing very well, books do well because it’s like a cheap form of entertainment, and at times of turmoil, people often turn to books for that sense of grounding.”
So far, one of Holly’s favourite aspects of the role has been meeting customers. “There’s something so special about holding a book and as a bookseller, being able to press it into someone’s hand and say ‘here you go, I hope this will change your day or your mood or your perspective on things’,” she says.
While this is true of any bookseller, it’s much more prominent in a non-chain shop where you can be more “nimble”, suggests Holly. Jarrold, in particular, is a rare breed and combines the best of both retail opportunities. “I can’t think of any department stores that have an individual bookshop within them, where the independent spirit is there,” she says. “We function like an independent bookshop but have the support, inspiration and calendar of a larger store and it means we have this real strength. It gives us this edge, this point of difference, and makes us unique.”
This is something Holly is keen to build on in her role and says that the department’s small but very knowledgeable team of eight have already taught her a lot. “It’s really clear to me that the department is doing well already, so I think to begin with, my plan is to make sure that I uphold all of its values,” she says. “But hopefully, as the year goes on, to grow that and to build on that and to hopefully try some new things. I would like there to be something for everyone in this shop.
“While the loyalty and the continuity is the lovely thing about Jarrold, so is the fact that we can still keep things fresh for our customers. They haven’t just been coming in because it’s been exactly the same thing for years – as a shop, it’s really moved with the times.”
Over the coming months, Holly is keen to meet even more of the department’s customers and, she says, to explore Norwich and the surrounding area a bit more too. “I feel so comfortable here because Norwich has such a thriving literary community,” she says. “I’m looking forward to trying out loads of the foodie places and exploring the wider area. I love the fact that we’re really close to this rugged coastline, and I just keep stumbling on these bits of heritage – whether it’s a bit of ruined wall or a stunning, historical building.”
For more information, including opening times, visit www.jarrold.co.uk