GENEVA Much has been written about the bleak future for bookshops in the face of digital competition, with booksellers around the world fearing their shops may become quaint relics of the past, like tobacconists, albeit for different reasons.
This phenomenon also has been noticed in Switzerland where Payot, the Suisse Romande chain, has stood fast in its insistence on supplying quality literature and out-of-print or hard-to-find books. It has come up with an original way to attract and keep a demanding clientele by transforming its store on Rue Chantepoulet in Geneva into a non-francophone, international bookshop.
Books in French have been transferred to the new Payot on the mezzanine of Gare Cointrin and will continue to be the main feature at other Payot shops. Browsers at Chantepoulet, however, will find a huge selection of books in English: not only literature and bestsellers, but also translations of important works in other languages, in addition to the usual categories of history, poetry, psychology, gardening and the like. Another innovation is the addition of shelves devoted to books in German, Italian, Spanish and Russian.
“We decided to go international at Chantepoulet because of the increasing demand for books in English,” said store manager Xavier Huberson. “The other languages were chosen because the first two are, of course, national languages, and because there are so many residents in our region from Spain and Russia.” He said Payot felt there was no need to compete with a very good Portuguese bookshop for the large Suisse Romande community.
Payot may be riding the crest of a new wave. Already in the US and the UK, where digital books have swept even large bookstore chains off the street, there are signs that e-books may have peaked in popularity. Waterstones has plans to open a dozen new shops in the UK in 2014 and statistics from the American Booksellers Association show that fewer bookstores are closing down and that their number has stabilized.
Many independent booksellers have tried various ways to tempt clients away from ordering books online, including creating coffee shops or cafés as meeting places, but Payot seems to have found its own, unique business model, perhaps only applicable to a multilingual country. “We found we have a special clientele who are very well-read and who demand titles not easily found on the internet,” said Huberson, noting that while many anglophones live in Canton Vaud, “most of them work on Geneva’s Right Bank”. With this in mind, he said, Payot took the decision to specialize in books of quality, “the kind we received orders for in the past, from anglophones working at international organizations, rather than the popular type found more easily on Amazon or Google”.
Payot also sells electronic readers and e-books through its website, but Huberson says there have been fewer requests for them.