The Job and What's Involved

Bookselling is a specialist sector within retailing, and involves selling books to members of the public, often helping them find a particular book and giving advice.

Booksellers may work for a small independent bookshop, a shop that specialises in a certain area such as second-hand books or children's books, or one of the larger high street chains. Tasks and responsibilities are likely to include:

Dealing with customers - As well as taking payments from customers, booksellers may answer queries, offer advice and order books. This may include bibliographic work, often involving electronic searches on a computer, to find out whether or not a particular book is still in print, its availability and its cost.

Stock control - Monitoring stock levels is important because ordering too many books can be as harmful to a business as not having enough. Booksellers normally check stocks using a computerised system. They need to order stock at the right time and check stock when it arrives.

Buying/selecting books for stock - Booksellers need to buy books by assessing what their customers are likely to want, before placing orders with wholesalers and publishers. They will also need to read catalogues, evaluate new books and meet with sales representatives from publishers.

Administration - This may involve some accounting, processing orders, arranging deliveries and dealing with any returns.

Displaying - Booksellers help to unpack books as they arrive, putting them on the shelves and creating in-store and window displays.

General housekeeping - keeping the shop, its fixtures and fittings tidy and clean.

In some larger stores, they may also be expected to help organise book signings and special readings by authors.

The work varies according to the type of shop or activity. For example, in the antiquarian, second-hand, rare and collectable book trade, booksellers need to judge what they think is the right price for the book they are buying or selling, based on factors such as how rare it is and its condition.

Working for a specialist subject bookshop in areas such as travel, education, religion, transport, foreign languages, art or children's books, booksellers will be expected to provide more detailed information and advice about particular books.

A full-time bookseller normally works 37 or 38 hours a week, typically from 9am to 5pm, often including Saturdays. Many bookshops now open for longer hours, so Sunday and evening work is likely. Part-time work may be available, particularly before Christmas or during sales.

Larger chains of bookshops are often spacious and modern, while independent shops may be much smaller.

The work is largely based on the shop floor. It can be physically demanding and involves lifting heavy books and spending much of the day standing.

The starting salary for a bookseller may be between £12,000 and £17,000. With further experience and responsibilities they may earn around £25,000. Managers of a large bookshop or a large branch of a chain may earn up to around £40,000.

Some companies also operate bonus schemes based upon sales figures.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

A bookshop from one of the major chains is found on most high streets across the country. The growth of bookstore chains and the increasing popularity of buying books online has resulted in a decline in the number of small, independent bookshops.

The bookselling industry is diversifying. Online, direct and discount selling through a variety of outlets, such as supermarkets and discount stores, have led to a wider range of opportunities and a rapidly changing industry.

Bookselling is a very popular career and competition for jobs is high. Many jobs are secured through speculative applications. The Booksellers Association (BA)'s Directory of Booksellers Association Members is particularly useful as it gives detailed information on over 3,000 bookshops, classified by town. Vacancies may appear in the local press, The Guardian, The Times Literary Supplement and The Bookseller or on websites such as, which also lists specialist employment agencies.

Education and Training

There are no set academic requirements for working as a bookseller. Employers may look for applicants with GCSE's (A*-C) in English and mathematics or post-16-level qualifications such as A levels. Increasingly many of the larger bookshops are looking for people with a degree.

The Diploma in retail business may be relevant for this area of work.

Employers look for applicants with enthusiasm, good communication skills, a knowledge of books and a passion for bookselling. Some experience of working in a bookshop or another retail environment is an advantage.

A degree or Higher National Diploma (HND) in business/management may improve the chance of getting a job. A number of institutions offer higher education courses in retail management including foundation degrees, which can be taken whilst in work.

As a guide, minimum requirements for entry onto an HND or foundation degree course are one A level or equivalent and three to four GCSE's (A*-C); for a degree course, the minimum requirements are normally two A levels or equivalent, and five GCSE's (A*-C) usually to include English and maths.

To work in some specialist shops, a relevant specialist qualification may be needed. For example, to work in a shop dealing in art books, a qualification in art history would be useful.

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Most training is on the job, and trainees are likely to receive instruction from experienced colleagues. Some of the larger shops and chains run more formal training programmes, including induction courses for new staff and management courses for those selected for promotion.

The BA runs an Introduction to Bookselling course twice a year for people who are considering purchasing a bookshop, booksellers who have recently set up in business and new staff members who need an introduction to the practicalities of bookselling.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A bookseller should:

  • Have a detailed knowledge of the shop's stock and a wider knowledge of books generally.
  • Have a confident and friendly personality.
  • Have good communication skills.
  • Be able to listen to and advise customers.
  • Have good selling skills.
  • Be patient and diplomatic when dealing with customers.
  • Be confident using computers and databases.
  • Have energy and initiative.
  • Be able to work as part of a team.
  • Have good planning and organisational skills.
  • Be able to work under pressure.

Your Long Term Prospects

The best career opportunities are in the larger bookstore chains. It is possible to join one of the major bookselling groups as a sales assistant and be managing a branch within three years. In some stores, booksellers could be head of their own department, section or floor within the bookshop, and be responsible for their own sales and stock.

Large chains may also provide opportunities to move into other areas of the book trade, such as book marketing. Fewer promotion opportunities exist in small, independent bookshops.

Self-employment as the owner of an independent bookshop is possible, although this requires both capital and considerable experience of books. Normally, such a move involves antiquarian, second-hand or specialist books.

Get Further Information

Antiquarian Booksellers Association (ABA),
Sackville House, 40 Piccadilly, London W1J 0DR
Tel: 020 7439 3118

Booksellers Association (BA), Minster House,
272 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London SW1V 1BA
Tel: 020 7802 0802

Provincial Booksellers Fairs Association,
16 Melbourn Street, Royston, Hertfordshire SG8 7BZ
Tel: 01763 248400

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