Gosh, how proud I am of my favourite supermarket! It has a fantastic selection of bread, and beans and bacon and even lots of other foods that don’t begin with b. Yes, I know: man or woman cannot live by bread (or beans, bacon and baking powder) alone, but fear not because Sainsbury’s has just been honoured for its bookselling wondrousness. Yep, it’s won the “Martina Cole General or Chain Bookseller of the Year” award.
Admittedly, this surprised me a little. I tried to think where the books were in my large branch of Sainsbury’s and I couldn’t quite remember. I thought that might be because when I go to Sainsbury’s I’m usually focused on the beans etc and don’t expect to see books. And the brain often doesn’t see what it doesn’t expect to see.
Anyway, according to the citation, this award was for “reinvigorating book zones, increasing book sales by more than 33% and attracting new book buyers to the market.” Book zones? Fab!
Despite knowing that you can’t believe everything you read in the papers, I was cautiously optimistic when I went to look at my nearby Sainsbury’s. After all, it’s big and has very recently been refurbished, so it must have a book zone.
And there, behind the clothes, it was! Just the green bit, as the rest is toys, but it was verily an actual cardboard shelfy thing, all for books. Well, three titles. And did you spot that it has some batteries hanging from it, just in case you need those for your torch while reading under the bedclothes?
But no! Silly me. This wasn’t the real Book Zone, merely the taster, the introduction to the gloriousness of the real Book Zone.
Also, I didn't notice at the time but if you look very closely at the top right hand corner of the photo, you'll see a big sign: WE'VE DUMPED THE JUNK! Meh. (By the way, yes, that is my shopping trolley in the shot and yes they are my bottles of pink Cava. I got those from the Wine Zone.)
Anyway, no time to lose. I measured the Book Zone: three metres long, with six shelves. I counted the books. There were between fifty and sixty titles – it was difficult to count because everything was a bit of a mess and people kept coming past to get to the DVDs. There were the forty best-selling paperbacks (I’m not too sure whose chart that was) and a few scruffy picture books, Jeremy Clarkson’s latest and some pink things that looked like cupcakes. Oh, and two cupcake recipe books.
I went looking for something to compare this with. Now, I could have chosen crisps or yogurt, each of which occupied metres and metres and metres of shelving and countless products, but a) that’s a lot of measuring and counting and b) it would have been unfair to books and c) they don’t begin with b. But, just round a few corners, was the bacon. The Bacon Zone.
Well, zone-wise, books and bacon pretty equal, possibly even a few more products in books than bacon. But I needed to be sure. And sure enough, round the corner, a whole other Bacon Zone. And, what’s more, in pride of place at the end of an aisle. Clearly they really wanted to sell this bacon stuff. Victory to bacon! Maybe Sainsbury's are going for the Dan Brown Bacon Retailer of the Year award.
So, “reinvigorating book zones, increasing book sales by more than 33% and attracting new book buyers to the market,” eh? Give me a break. That book zone needed a rocket up it. There were no book sales going on while I was there and no book buyers at all, let alone new ones. Actually, a man in shorts did come by and lingered but I think he was hiding from his wife. He didn’t buy anything.
If Sainsbury’s wants to enter the book-selling game with a mission to “attract new book buyers”, that’s great. After all, we’ve just heard that 30% of UK households own no books. But you do that by supporting and enthusing libraries, schools and families with your passion for books, not by filling a dark corner with the top forty, chucking in a few scruffy deep discounted publisher promotions, some cupcakes and Jeremy Clarkson.
Listen to me, Sainsbury’s: people come to your stores for the bacon and the beans. (And in my case the very cheap and decent pink Cava at £4.89 a bottle.) If you really care about books more than bacon, then here’s an idea: fund book-buses, full of the lovely books you want to sell, and take authors into schools. Pay the authors a reasonable fee and we’ll talk about books, not just ours, but any books, good books, fascinating books, inspiring books. We’ll do the enthusing, we’ll display the knowledge and the passion and we’ll help you sell the books. Just think of the good publicity you’d get for your lovely supermarket, too.
Then, you really would deserve the Martina Cole General or Chain Bookseller of the Year. In the meantime, frankly, you don’t.
Write to be Published. In a bookshop. But not Sainsbury's. The Edinburgh Bookshop. I did buy my fizzy wine from Sainsbury's because Vanessa doesn't yet stock it. Come on, V, what are you waiting for? You could be the Nicola Morgan Cava Retailer of the Year!