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How to become a Bookseller

bookseller careers

What does a Bookseller do?

Booksellers buy books from publishers or wholesalers and sell them to customers, usually in a shop. This might be a small independent bookshop, a large shop that is part of a chain or a specialist bookshop selling, for example, second-hand or religious books.

Booksellers have many different tasks and responsibilities including:

  • serving customers - as well as dealing with money, this involves giving advice, answering enquiries and ordering books for customers
  • stock control - buying books by assessing the market and ordering stock from catalogues and directly from publishers. Booksellers need to check information on publishers and prices by using printed reference materials, microfiche and computers
  • administration - this may involve some accounting, distributing orders, arranging deliveries and dealing with any returns.
Working in a specialist bookshop may involve other, subject specific tasks. For example, in academic bookshops, booksellers need to liaise with teaching staff from local schools and colleges. Certain courses require particular text books, so it is necessary to ensure that stock levels are maintained to accommodate this.

Working as a bookshop manager would also involve staff recruitment and training.

What's the working environment like working as a Bookseller?

Most booksellers have core hours of 9am to 5pm. However, many bookshops now open for longer hours and weekend and evening work is likely. Overtime or part-time work may be available.

The work can be physically demanding and will involve lifting heavy books and standing for most of the day.

What does it take to become a Bookseller?

To be a bookseller you should:

  • have an interest in retailing, books and literature
  • enjoy dealing with members of the public
  • have a smart appearance
  • be able to talk knowledgeably and enthusiastically about books
  • have good communication, planning and organisational skills
  • have some selling skills
  • be confident using computers and databases
  • have the ability to work unsupervised or as part of a team.

Bookseller Career Opportunities

Bookselling is a very popular career and opportunities vary depending on the type of bookshop. Large chains are the major employers, but there are also opportunities with small independent bookshops.

The popularity of the major chains of bookshops and the growth of buying books over the Internet has resulted in a decline in the number of small, independent bookshops.

In general, bookselling offers more responsibility at an early stage than many other areas of retailing. Larger chains may offer a set promotional structure; independent shops offer few promotion opportunities.

The staffing structure in most bookshops is sales assistant, senior assistant, assistant manager and manager. In large shops it may also be possible to become a department or floor manager.

Self-employment as the owner/manager of an independent bookshop is possible, although this requires both capital and considerable experience. The BA produce a publication titled The Complete Guide to Starting and Running a Bookshop, which prospective owner/managers may find useful.

It is also possible to work from home as a book dealer and internet book selling is becoming increasingly common.

Further information

If you would like to know anything about Bookseller that does not appear on Hotcourses, further information can be found below.

Advice from the BA is to contact bookshops or head offices directly about vacancies, smaller shops in person and larger shops in writing. They produce a directory of booksellers.

The Booksellers Association of UK and Ireland (BA)
Minster House
272 Vauxhall Bridge Road
Tel: 020 7802 0802

Book Careers

Skillsmart Retail
40 Duke Street
Tel: 0800 093 5001

Facts and Stats:

  • Napoleon Bonaparte once called England a "nation of shopkeepers".

  • Consumer expenditure per head in the UK is £8,053.

  • The phrase "The customer is always right", was coined by H Gordon Selfridge.

  • The annual sales of digestive biscuits, if stacked on top of each other, would reach 275 miles high That's 4,500 times the height of Nelson's Column or 1,400 times the height of the Eiffel Tower.

  • Britain's first department store was Selfridges, which was opened in 1909.

Courses to help you become a Bookseller