Academic bookseller Blackwell is defying the slump in the book industry, with like-for-likes up 2 per cent in its financial year to date.
Chief executive Andrew Hutchings said its knowledgeable staff and local buying teams have led to robust trading.
“We’ve had a very strong year and have not played the discounting game,” he said. “We’ve benefited from the skills of our booksellers and by having the right stock in and being a local bookshop. We tend to get growth during recessions as more people are in education.”
Hutchings said the retailer is nearing the end of the second year of its three-year turnaround plan and will “be cash generative by the beginning of year three, if not profitable”.
He added that the retailer’s online offer is “going well” and its reserve-and-collect service now accounts for between 20 and 25 per cent of sales. He also said that while Blackwell has closed 10 of its shops “in the past few years” he would still open new stores if appropriate sites became available.
Other booksellers have suffered in the downturn. HMV Group-owned Waterstone’s reported like for-like sales down 2 per cent in the five weeks to January 3, while Borders began a review of head office staff at the beginning of the year and implemented a pay freeze.
Blackwell is also launching its Espresso Book Machine at its Charing Cross store in London on April 27. The machine will print a book in three to five minutes, which the retailer said will be identical to a normally printed book and there will be no difference in price.
Hutchings said retailers “tend to innovate more” in a downturn and Espresso will allow Blackwell to “win academic business back from Amazon as it offers immediacy”. He said: “It gives us the chance to create a different dynamic. We want to do something different.”
Hutchings said the pilot Espresso will be rolled out if successful.