Your love of books and a keen business mind will be handy in the world of bookselling, where shop owners or managers buy books from publishers or wholesalers and sell them on to customers
As a bookseller you will be involved in the retail of books and associated products. Your primary concern will be a strong customer focus but you will also need an excellent knowledge of the shop's stock and of the wider book market in general. You should be able to help customers locate titles and offer information and advice about different books that are available.
A bookseller is also heavily involved in ordering and displaying stock, as well as working with publishing companies and representatives.
Booksellers may work in specialist book retailers or in retailers where books form only part of the stock. You can work for large retailers or small independent bookshops, and may specialise in a particular kind of bookselling, such as children's or antiquarian books.
Depending on whether the job is based in a large chain or a small independent shop, and on the size and location of the store, exact duties may vary. However, tasks often involve:
- serving a range of customers
- dealing with enquiries and identifying customer needs
- offering advice and recommending books, where appropriate
- maintaining up-to-date knowledge of current titles and changes in the market
- undertaking bibliographic work using computer or print sources to identify and locate titles
- processing customer orders and book reservations
- dealing with mail order, email and web-based orders - although this applies only in certain businesses
- handling payments by cash, credit card and using book tokens - in many shops this will require the use of electronic point of sale (EPOS) technology
- buying from catalogues and publishers' representatives - although the extent to which bookselling staff are involved in buying stock varies a great deal from shop to shop
- negotiating prices with sellers
- paying and processing invoices
- processing book deliveries and returns
- stock-checking books and, depending on the shop, other merchandise
- creating in-store and window displays
- maintaining commercial awareness including identifying business and promotional opportunities
- helping with book events, including organising talks, signing sessions and reading groups
- liaising with teaching and library staff on set texts in academic shops
- liaising with other external account holders, for example schools, councils and companies
- reviewing sales performance and meeting sales targets
- undertaking general housekeeping duties, such as unpacking, stock replenishment and tidying.
With increased responsibility, the role becomes more operations and business-orientated. For those at higher levels, the work also involves dealing with staffing and training, budget setting and reporting sales and budget figures.
- Starting salaries range between £14,000 and £17,000.
- Salaries at senior level or with experience (e.g. after 10 to 15 years in the role) fall between £20,00 and £40,000. The upper end of the scale is only achieved by those who have progressed to managing a large bookshop or the large branch of a chain.
Salaries vary and depend on the location and size of the shop, but tend to be modest. There may be more scope for increased pay in the larger bookshop chains. Many shops offer staff discounts and some offer other incentives.
Income data from the Booksellers Association (BA). Figures are intended as a guide only.
Working hours typically include regular unsocial hours. Shops are increasingly open for longer hours during the week and at least part of the weekend.
Opportunities for part-time work are good. Career breaks are also possible.
What to expect
- Compared to other areas of retailing, bookselling may offer more responsibility at an earlier stage; for example a bookseller may be given responsibility for managing a section in a bookshop early on in their career. Retail environments vary greatly in terms of size and style. In particular, larger retail outlets and smaller independent stores may offer quite different working environments.
- The job is largely based on the shop floor with some behind-the-scenes work.
- The work can be very busy and physically demanding. Standing for long periods and moving books can be tiring.
- Self-employment is unlikely at an early stage of a bookselling career, although it is a longer-term possibility. There are a large number of independent bookshops throughout the country but the competition from larger stores and chains, that are able to offer substantial discounts and internet selling, is strong. Self-employment tends to require good contacts in the publishing and book supply world and a thorough understanding of the current market and trends in bookselling.
- There are slightly more women than men within the occupation.
- There are opportunities throughout the country, though branches of chains are concentrated in towns and cities.
- Travel during the working day, absence from home at night and overseas work or travel are all unlikely, but may increase if in a senior management role.
- Although not well paid, competition for posts is high. Some jobs are secured through speculative applications.
Although this area is open to all graduates, a degree or HND in literature or business and management may increase your chances.
A degree is not essential, but a high proportion of those working in bookselling have a degree or HND, especially those working as academic booksellers.
Bookshops on campus often employ students on temporary contracts. More specialist shops may favour applicants with a good academic background and specify a degree for entry, although the work itself may not necessarily draw upon this.
A pre-entry postgraduate qualification is not needed.
Employers commonly seek people who are enthusiastic and can demonstrate excellent communication and customer service skills.
A passion for books is often regarded as a desirable attribute for people wishing to work as booksellers.
Many sellers use online ordering and direct-delivery services, so a grasp of e-commerce may be useful.
An awareness of current literary topics is desirable. Some specialist bookshops may have specific requirements for subject knowledge.
In general you will need to have:
- excellent communication skills
- the ability and confidence to deal with a range of people
- organisational skills
- time management skills
- good teamworking ability
- the ability to work under pressure
- good general knowledge
- an interest in books
- commercial awareness
- IT literacy
- an interest in, and knowledge of, the bookselling sector
- the ability to multitask.
Although pre-entry experience is not always required, experience in retailing or any other experience which demonstrates your ability to work with the public, communicate effectively and work as part of a team will improve your chances.
The most likely employers in this field are the chains of high street specialist and non-specialist bookshops, which, between them, account for the largest share of the retail bookselling market in the UK.
There are a large number of smaller, privately owned businesses, which also represent a substantial proportion of the book sales market and which may offer the possibility of employment.
The industry is diversifying, with books being sold in supermarkets and discount stores, through book clubs, mail order and online. These may also be sources of employment, with online selling a particular growth area.
Up-to-date information about bookshop groups and the book market is available from the BA.
Look for job vacancies at:
Non-specialist recruitment agencies rarely handle vacancies.
Some jobs are secured through speculative applications, and both the BA and the Antiquarian Booksellers Association (ABA) publish directories of members.
Training is mainly on the job and there is currently no formal professional qualification in this area. It may be useful to gain membership of:
- Booksellers Association (BA)
- Antiquarian Booksellers Association (ABA).
All posts are likely to involve structured training in the form of an induction, covering an introduction to the business and basic bookselling techniques. Further training opportunities vary depending on the size and nature of the organisation but may include:
- bibliographic searching
- customer service
- specialist areas, such as children's bookselling or event management.
For those aiming higher, some larger employers offer fast-track training schemes or trainee manager schemes, covering areas such as:
- budgeting and finance
- business and consumer legislation
- recruitment and management of staff
- stock management.
The ability to understand and manage digital marketing is increasingly important within the industry, the use of social media platforms in particular being used to help attract younger readers. Some training is available in this area, such as the BA's monthly webinars on digital marketing.
In smaller businesses, training and development may be provided primarily by more experienced colleagues, though some external training courses may be supported. The BA runs some training courses, including an 'Introduction to Bookselling' course.
Postgraduate courses are available in the history of the book, which may be an option for those interested in a career in antiquarian bookselling and who are interested in further study. For more details, search for postgraduate courses in book history.
Promotion prospects are good within large chains, which often promote from within, although relocation to a different branch may be necessary. Promotion prospects in smaller outlets may be more limited.
Typically progression in a larger store might involve specialisation in a specific subject area, managing a particular section or floor, and then moving into an assistant manager or store manager position. This process can be rapid and it is possible for a graduate to be managing a branch within three years from starting as a more junior bookseller.
Booksellers may move into publishing where a bookseller's commercial knowledge of the book industry can be very useful, although this is a very competitive field.
Other avenues include independent bookselling and antiquarian bookselling. There are also specialist market sectors such as academic, children's and religious bookshops.
The field of bookselling is going through a time of rapid change with the continued increase in the use of e-readers and e-books and different forms of selling (such as online, direct and discount selling through a variety of outlets including supermarkets). This may lead to a wider variety of opportunities in bookselling, but also to intensified competition for a share of the book-buying market. As a result, commercial knowledge and aptitude are increasingly important for success in a bookselling career.
Working as a bookseller provides the opportunity to gain a range of experience and develop basic, but highly transferable, retailing skills that could be applied in a number of different retailing environments. Progression into other sales areas is therefore possible.