Did you know that throughout the eighteenth century, the bookseller who paid attention to the wants and needs of the customer could find success? Various tactics that are known as marketing tools today were very much in evidence in the 1700s.
One of the more successful and innovative booksellers of the time to make use of marketing was James Lackington. Born in 1746, Lackington was the eldest of eleven children and once sold apples on the street to help the family make ends meet. Though he didn’t learn to write until he was older, he managed to create the largest bookstore of his time.
His father had been a journeyman shoemaker, and Lackington at first followed in those footsteps. He learned to read from a Methodist family and later taught himself to write. His love of reading led him to the idea of selling books in his shoe shop. Eventually, he left the shoe business behind and focused only on books. Lackington invested his money in his inventory and believed that the best way to please his repeat customers and to acquire new customers was to offer lower prices. He created a catalogue, which highlighted the books for sale, and he used signage in his shop that promoted the low prices.
He made it a practice of selling books for cash, plus he used tokens to help create excitement. He kept abreast of the political news as well as made note of what was popular with the Book Clubs and Circulating Libraries (the latter of which he began early in his bookselling career). His savvy as a marketer and his monetary success caused ripples of discontent within the bookseller circles. Other booksellers questioned his practices. Lackington’s response was to write (and, of course, to sell) his own story. Titled Memoirs of the Forty-Five First Years of the Life of James Lackington, the Present Bookseller in Chiswell-Street, Moorfields, London, the book is dedicated “To those sordid and malevolent booksellers, whether they resplendent dwell in stately mansions, or in wretched huts of dark and groveling obscurity” (Lackington viii). Perhaps the greatest illustration of Lackington’s marketing abilities was the final home of his bookshop. In 1793, the same year as the release of his memoirs, Lackington moved into high-end quarters in the new business center of Finsbury Square. His shop, which was four stories high and had numerous windows as well as a dome, became known as The Temple of Muses, and it sported a huge sign above its entrance touting that it was the world’s cheapest bookstore. It was a showpiece of a shop that catered to its customers.
More next time!