Sharjah Booksellers Conference presents a hands-on program and offers further networking opportunities

Sharjah Booksellers Conference presents a hands-on program and offers further networking opportunities
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Listen to experts in the publishing market and strengthen relationships informally. These were the main objectives of the 3rd edition of the Sharjah Booksellers’ Conference, which brought together 550 professionals, including booksellers, publishers and distributors from 76 countries, for two days.

Repeating the round table format – which undoubtedly helps in the creation of networks and the exchange of ideas – the conference began with the presence of Sheika Bodour Al Qasimi, president of the Sharjah Book Authority, who in her speech highlighted the importance and power of collaboration between all links in the book chain. “Only by working together can we ensure the future of our industry.”

Bodour also called on publishers, distributors and booksellers to stay open and interconnected at a time when the sector faces rapid technological change, changing consumer preferences, intense online competition and economic pressures.

Embrace changes and new trends

There is nothing more appropriate for a booksellers conference than sharing success stories. That’s why the program began with a conversation between Andrea Giunti, executive vice president of the Italian bookstore Giunti, and Porter Anderson, editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives.

With a history that began in 1841, the Italian bookstore chain currently has 267 stores throughout the country. Its reach is so great that one in every ten books in Italy is sold by the chain. “Our mission is to spread culture and bring people closer to books,” Andrea summarizes.

Giunti ─which also has a distribution branch─ opens between 15 and 20 bookstores a year and has managed to create a community among its readers: they have 4.2 million members on the chain’s loyalty card.

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“Selling books is also a people business,” Andrea emphasizes when asked about the secret to creating this community of readers. «We invest a lot in something that costs nothing and gives a lot of return: kindness. The friendliness of our employees draws people to our stores. Be kind to your customers,” she adds. Giunti has more than 1,200 employees.

Another of the chain’s strategies that may explain its success has been to diversify its locations. The majority of the stores, 67%, are in shopping centers and, during the pandemic, with the closure of these spaces, they realized that they needed to be somewhere else and began to occupy urban centers and other busier and more public spaces. .

The highlight of the talk was the presentation of Giunti Odeon, a bookstore, cinema and cafe that opened its doors in November 2023.

Occupying the former Palazzo dello Strozzino, which became the Odeon cinema in 1914, the chain renovated the space but maintained its original features. There, customers buy books during the day and watch movies at night. “The idea is to bring films from different countries, call orchestras, musicians and put on a varied program.”

«Bookstores should not be shy. “You have to invest in the new,” he said. “We don’t care if the public buys or not, we want to bring people closer to books, we want them to know about books,” she concluded.

Another point worth mentioning was Andrea’s comments about the services of streaming. “I love Netflix,” she said. Andrea explained her speech citing the growth of the catalog of streaming in relation to foreign films and series. «Now more films and series are made from different countries that are broadcast on these platforms. This brings us closer to other cultures and ideas and awakens our curiosity. An example of this is the many Korean movies and series that have been released recently. With all this success, more people are interested in Korean literature and sales increase,” he explained.

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