Booksellers & Travel Literature Interview with Sophie from Dymocks Books
Hey there Travel Tarters. Today I’ve got Sophie Higgins from Dymocks Booksellers to chat about how the travel sector is an important part of their business. In fact, the travel genre is their best performing and selling category across their operations (wow, it outsells 50 Shades of Grey!), so I’m going to pick Sophie’s brains to try and find why!
We’ve all carried a guidebook or a travel novel/memoir at sometime. And I was interested to see how it all works from a bookseller’s perspective.
Here it is! You can follow @dymocksbooks on Twitter
The Booksellers Interview with Dymocks
The Travel Tart: Hi Sophie, thanks for the chat. For those who are reading this from outside of Australia, can you please give a quick description of Dymocks Booksellers. Okay, the name gives away what they do, but I’m after a bit more!
Sophie Higgins: Dymocks Booksellers is Australia’s largest chain bookstore! It’s over 130 years old and is still a family owned company that has a network of about 70 stores across Australia. Most are franchised stores, so they’re locally owned and operated by bookloving people Australia wide. We also have stores in Hong Kong, and I’m hoping very soon to need an urgent reason to visit (and maybe eat some delicious street food while I’m there)… In fact I work on level 6 of the original Dymocks building built before the Second World War, above the wonderful flagship store on George Street in Sydney’s CBD. Visitors are often surprised to see what looks like Swastika’s inset in the marble floor of this incredible heritage building. They are in fact Fylfot’s, which were ancient symbols of peace before Hitler subverted them.
We are also starting to do some fun podcasts, available to download from our website, where members of staff get to chat with big name authors and find out a bit more about their writing and their personalities. They’re worth a listen. For foodies and those with a love of all things French, this week’s podcast with Gabriel Gate should be right up your alley!
The Travel Tart: As mentioned before, the travel genre is the biggest ticket item for Dymocks Booksellers. Do you know why this is the case? Is it just because people are bored at work and that they come into the store buying a travel guide that will eventually take them somewhere?
Sophie Higgins: Absolutely! Who doesn’t spend most of their time at work reading blogs like yours, reviewing Tripadvisor, poring over Lonely Planet Guide Books and Gourmet Traveller, longing for and meticulously planning their next holiday? It’s what us wage slaves live for after all!
That’s how the tourism board ad agencies get you, when you’re standing amongst a smelly downtrodden pack of suits underneath the train station at 7am, it’s 8 degrees and you’re staring at a billboard of a lady in a bikini on a deckchair, reading on a crystal beach. You can’t help but pop into Dymocks and buy up all the guide books you can on exotic destinations to cheer you up on the way home ; )
The Travel Tart: Yes! So many people want to leave the fluorescent prison! I’m guessing that the high volume of travel book sales has something to do with a strong Australian Dollar which has greatly increased the number of outbound trips to other places overseas. I was an idiot ten years ago when I travelled overseas when the dollar was called the ‘Pacific Peso’ and was only buying 52 US cents. It wasn’t as bad as the Zimbabwe Dollar since they had to print off a 100 trillion dollar note to keep up with inflation, but I didn’t spent much time in Europe during that trip! What travel guide destinations have been your most popular at the moment, and why?
Sophie Higgins: Oh yes, that too. The current bestsellers are perennial favourite destinations. Interestingly, despite the stronger Aussie dollar the classic backpackers guide to Europe on a Shoestring is still our no.1 best seller and I don’t think it’s just uni students taking advantage of the tips for budget travel! The French phrasebook and Paris guidebook are always in the top 10 as well – what can I say, the city of love just has that je ne sais quoi…
The Travel Tart: Just wondering, with the advent of downloadable guides, how do you think this has affected the volumes of print versions of the travel books that you sell? I’m a Gen X type who prefers lugging around a print book, but the youngsters these days pretty much download everything to their smart phones these days!
Sophie Higgins: Our sales of print travel guides are stronger than ever, which implies that the e versions have had little impact. I think travellers want all the resources available to them, and use the web for research and reviews, but ultimately the trusty hold in your hand (no batteries required) version is still the most trusted when abroad. I think ebooks and websites just enhance your experience but don’t necessarily replace the original print version.
The Travel Tart: Moving onto travel literature. Some of my favourite writers include Peter Moore and Brian Thacker, who like taking the mickey out of travel and they definitely don’t take it too seriously. Some of their silly titles include No S#*%$ing in The Toilet and Rule No. 5 – No Sex on The Bus. How does the travel literature genre go within the broad travel book sales?
Sophie Higgins: There was a time when every travel narrative book sold (I’m thinking Holy Cow by Sarah McDonald and Almost French by Sarah Turnbull), numbers are not as big now but every now and then there is a cracker, usually attached to a TV show and with a humorous element as you say. Sales at Christmas last year of Karl Pilkington’s Further Adventures of An Idiot Abroad (hilarious!) were really big, and of course the Michael Palin’s of this world are always successful.
The Travel Tart: I also interviewed Tom Gleisner who was part of the spoof called the ‘Jetlag Travel Guides’ and they produced some great send ups of travel guide books, including ‘Molvania’ and ‘Phaic Tan’. Do you know of anyone who thought these places existed and thought they were for real when they purchased them?
Sophie Higgins: These were phenomenal runaway bestsellers when they were released, in fact there is an anniversary edition of Molvania out this Christmas for those who missed it! I hope most people got the joke, but I could be mistaken.
The Travel Tart: The biggest selling title that you have is Lonely Planet’s Europe on a Shoestring. I’ve got an old copy of this in my collection. But even sillier that that, Brian Thacker recently travelled to South East Asia using the original 1970s Lonely Planet Guide – South East Asia on The Cheap as his only source of information! He found that many places had indeed changed significantly and obviously not much was relevant anymore, but the bumsteers led him towards many great experiences. What do you think about having a separate section of 1970s guides available so that travellers can have more adventurous trips instead of following the current guides religiously?
Sophie Higgins: Hmmm. I think there might be a couple of complaints from some customers. Maybe we could put warning labels on those retro editions!
The Travel Tart: The Dymocks Sydney store has a Lonely Planet hub which would probably make most travel addicts pass out with joy. Do you have people wandering in there that never come out? Has anyone slept a night in there? Tony Wheeler perhaps?
Sophie Higgins: I often walk past and see people sitting on the bench with piles of travel books around them in their lunch break, ogling faraway places. The illustrated ones are the best for feeding the starved imagination. I have yet to see the Lonely Planet founders with a bivouac and a camp stove camping out in there but it’s not out of the question! Soon there will be a whole range of Lonely Planet travel accessories to complement the books so maybe the campers are waiting for that.
The Travel Tart: One of my favourite Monty Python scenes of all time is where a guy goes into a shop with a dodgy English-Hungarian dictionary and starts making offensive remarks that he’s not aware of (for example – ‘my hovercraft is full of eels, please fondle my buttocks’). I’d love to create something similar and create a silly phrase book and sell it in a bookstore just for a laugh. But anyway, I think some of the legit phrase books I’ve seen in book stores are hilarious because they have a structured set of lines to blurt out if you find someone attractive but neither of you speak each other’s language. I’m serious, there’s everything there from initial greetings to getting it on in bed! How do your phrasebooks go in terms of sales?
Sophie Higgins: I am going to go downstairs NOW and check that out, here I was thinking it could all be said with your facial expression. As mentioned before, phrasebooks sell really well, in fact the French one is in our Top 5 bestsellers, as you say, clearly because so many people want to know the international language of love..
The Travel Tart: Finally, I have a list of 100 travel books that are great for Wanderlust. Many of them are about the disaster stories that happen on the road. What are your favourites?
Sophie Higgins: My favourite travel story is Holy Cow by Sarah MacDonald. She was an ABC journalist in India with her young family and it is a laugh out loud account of adjusting to a new culture and the pleasures and frustrations to be found amongst the utter chaos of one of my favourite countries to visit.
The Travel Tart: Anyway, thanks for the chat Sophie. Happy book selling!
More Bookseller Stuff
More information: Australia’s largest bookseller Dymocks, have confirmed that travel is their best performing category across the country, highlighting Aussies love of travel. Dymocks has revealed its bestselling travel books for 2013 and predicts Europe, Vietnam and the USA as the top destinations Australians will be travelling to this year.
Lonely Planet’s perennial classic Europe on a Shoestring continues to be Australia’s favourite travel guide, firmly sitting at the number one spot in the travel category. Coming in second is Lonely Planet’s Vietnam guide book, a recent addition to the bestselling travel category list, while Lonely Planet’s USA guide follows closely in third place.
“While Australians have always loved to travel, the recent strong dollar has increased the accessibility for us to travel abroad and Dymocks’ guide book sales, particularly for New York, Vietnam and Paris, have certainly reflected these travel trends,” said Sophie Higgins, National Buying Manager, Dymocks.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ recent research confirms travel to the US and Asia has grown significantly – the US alone has seen a 6.5 per cent growth from 2012 to 2013.
“The travel category is the best performing category within Dymocks and has grown continuously over the last three years. Our bestsellers continue to be some of the most highly travelled countries, and it’s great to see Australians seeking more information on these destinations before they depart.
“Lonely Planet’s Europe on a Shoestring guidebook is in its seventh edition and has consistently remained in the number one spot on our travel charts. It’s interesting to see how our love of Europe and the US, particularly the bright lights of New York City, continues to draw Aussies abroad, whilst South-East Asia has had huge growth presumably buoyed by a strong currency and competitive airlines,” concluded Ms Higgins.
Dymocks recently partnered with Lonely Planet to create a world first Lonely Planet Hub within Dymocks’ George Street store in Sydney, providing travellers the opportunity to fulfil all their travel book needs in one location. Since the launch of the Hub, the bookseller has seen uplift in sales and interest in the travel category. The Lonely Planet Hub is located on the mezzanine level of Dymocks’ flagship store on George St, Sydney.
All the books in the Dymocks Top 10 Bestselling Travel Books List are available online at www.dymocks.com.au and in all Dymocks stores throughout Australia.