In my last blog entry, I introduced you to James Lackington, a very successful eighteenth century bookseller. He opened The Temple of Muses in 1793, which boasted four stories and a mammoth sign touting that it was the world’s cheapest bookstore.
A key to Lackington’s success as a bookseller was his willingness to cater to all walks of life. Lackington understood that price and choice mattered — both to the wealthy and to the working poor. The richest patron could choose whatever kind of binding he or she wanted for his or her book, while the young maid who had just a small amount of money might purchase a book with no binding at all. Or she might buy a few pages of a book on one pay day, and then buy a few more on her next pay day. Lackington gave each customer choices — and did so within whatever budget that customer had.
Even the different levels of the bookstore offered various choices of comfort. The patron with time and money to spare could peruse book choices within a well-lit area with comfy seating. Within Lackington’s grand bookshop, all customers could feel they were a part of something special. The attention Lackington gave to the setting of the shop, to its shelves and windows and lighting fixtures made for a memorable shopping experience. The physical arrangement of the books mattered. So too did the book’s size, alphabetization, and physical classification.
Women were also innovators in the bookselling business throughout the eighteenth century. In fact, James Lackington had the benefit of not one but several industrious wives. His first wife, Nancy, kept her eye on the pocketbook and did not believe in spending too much money. His second wife, Dorcas, who hailed from a higher economic background and who enjoyed reading novels, took great pleasure in the day-to-day workings of the bookshop. It was due to her levelheaded business sense and her willingness to put in long hours in the shop that Lackington was able to leave the business to her as he set out to discover more ways to sell and more books to offer for sale. Together, they created a very successful bookshop.