Literary Tourist

Nigel Beale is a writer and broadcaster who specializes in literary journalism. He hosts a radio program called The Biblio File, in which he interviews authors, publishers, booksellers, editors, and others in the book trade. This week Beale launched Literary Tourist, a web-based community where book lovers can plan trips to bookshops, festivals, libraries, etc., and also exchange their experiences with other biblio-travelers. This sounded amazing to me, and I wanted to learn more, so I asked Beale a few questions about his new project. Here is our Q&A.

RRB: Literary Tourist is such a fabulous idea but also quite a large undertaking. How and when did you decide to pursue it?

NB: I’ll start with the HOW: The idea took hold about a year and a half ago, when I first learned that the Book Hunter Press (BHP) was for sale. Since 1993 owners Susan and David Siegel had been producing their Book Lovers Regional Guides which listed all of the used/antiquarian bookstores in North America.

This, I thought, might fit very nicely with what I was doing at the time, namely pursuing an interest in books, collecting, hosting a radio program, and traveling around visiting and photographing bookstores - sort of a mid-life folly I called it.  I’d been working, quite successfully, in the media/public relations business for  more than 15 years, and had decided that it was time to follow my passion full-time, for as long as the money held out that is!

I soon came to realize that this wasn’t a folly, it was something very important to me.  I loved doing it, and the idea of making money at something you love is very appealing; wedding passion with business. And besides, BHP sort of retroactively explained to me why I was fanatically taking all of these photos! So I went down to visit the Siegels one day in December 2009, and we came to an agreement.

As for the WHY... Partly the same answer: the appeal of getting paid to do what you love, but, on a more fundamental level, I was concerned about the alarming number of used bookstore closures, and saw BHP as an opportunity to help slow the trend.

RRB: Is the ABAA or ILAB involved? Have any booksellers offered feedback?

NB: Funny you should mention ABAA. Susan Benne, its executive director,  was the person who initially put me in touch with Brendan Sherar at Biblio.com. He was the one who told me that BHP was for sale. Biblio, incidentally, is partnering with Literary Tourist to help bookstores promote themselves.

While there is nothing formal in place with ABAA yet, they are supportive, and we are currently talking about ways we might jointly work to increase open bookstore traffic. As for ILAB, I haven’t formally approached them, however, they have been keen on the radio work I’ve been doing, promoting my Biblio File interviews. I’m hopeful, once we move into other parts of the world (we’re currently covering North America with plans to open the U.K. later on this year), that we’ll do something together.

As for feedback, we’ve had positive response from everyone we’ve spoken to so far; not surprising I suppose, given the fact that our goal is to generate more business for used bookstores. The test will come in the next few weeks when we launch the site; we’ll be emailing thousands of booksellers inviting them to claim and update their listings.

RRB: As I’ve read on your ‘About Us’ page, you began updating the BHP database in 2009. Had it been nine years since the previous update? What did you notice in that process?

NB: BHP put its data online in 2000. In fact, they were updating their databases right up until I took over in 2010. Still, it is a challenge to keep up with all the closings and start-ups. This is why we are inviting all used booksellers to visit www.literarytourist.com to claim, add, update and maintain their listings.

What I’ve noticed in the process is that although there have been quite a few closures, the information we have on existing stores is surprisingly accurate.

RRB: The site offers collectors a place to plan a trip to book shops, landmarks, festivals, libraries, and other places of bibliophilic interest. Members will have the opportunity to ‘review’ these things, such as we see on typical travel websites, is that right? That’s an interesting aspect to this.

NB: Yes, we’ve provided space on the site not just for members, but for all visitors to review bookstores and other destinations. This, in addition to our own in-house reviews and comments, is I think a strength of the site: accurate, useful assessments that will help book lovers to spend their time most profitably.

As things progress, we want to create a community of traveling book lovers where participants can exchange thoughts about their experiences. The idea is that this input, along with an ‘events and sales’ feature, will make literary trips that much more fruitful.

RRB: I’m interested to read that a new set of printed regional Book Lover’s Guides will also be published. What are your plans there?

NB: Although the Internet, ebooks, iphones, and similar innovations, provide all sorts of convenience and benefits, I like the idea of providing book lovers with something tangible and tactile; to use or abuse as they see fit as they travel along literary highways and bi-ways. So, two things: one, we will be introducing downloadable pdf State Reports for $.99 (members), $4.99 (non-members) which will include state maps and listings of all in-state destinations; and, as you say, we’ll be re-introducing the seven printed regional guides which, in addition to all the bookstores, will also now include all kinds of other literary destinations, events and activities. These will be printed on demand.

I should mention too, before closing, that we plan to offer a discount program where participating dealers will offer a percentage off their books to customers who present one of our Guides or State Reports. Again, the idea behind this is to get more people into the physical bookstore in hopes that this will help keep more of them open.

Our thanks to Nigel Beale. Best of luck with the new endeavor!

Auction Guide