We are exploring and sharing user stories from the world of indie book publishing to discover and showcase creativity, inspiration, knowledge and the details behind the stories that make them remarkable.

Meet Lucy Anne Payne, one of the owners and founder of the independent bookshop, Material, which is located in Shoreditch, one of London´s most creative areas. We sat down for a talk with Lucy about her passion for books, running a bookshop, finding new books and how to market and sell your work in a creative and collaborative way.

Hello Lucy! Thank you for taking the time to talk with us. Could you please walk us through the story of Material from the beginning until today?

Lucy: Material has changed quite a lot since it first begun. Initially, my partner and I wanted to start a design & lifestyle store, which sold books and also represented all of the talented artists we know and love within the UK, predominantly London. The store was actually started in our hometown, Ludlow that is a small market town in Shropshire, England. We had great aspirations to do it in London; however, this was a bit beyond our reach at the time. When the moment came to take a bit of time out from the London life and move back to our hometown, we saw a gap in the market and decided to open the bookshop there. At the beginning of establishing the store, we played around with lots of ideas, tested the market, and to start with, our selection of products within the shop were mostly artwork prints and then a very small selection of books. We were limited to a very small budget, so all of our buying decisions had to be very considered. For us, the process of opening the shop and the company started as a very small thing, which gradually changed, developed, and grew as we went on; reinvesting more money into the business and expanding our products.


Lucy: We invited artists and people from London back to Ludlow, for exhibitions and events, and to do something really interesting, bring something new to that town. And it was really well received, and people started really enjoying the fact that they kind of had a little bit of London in this really small market town in the middle of nowhere. Ludlow is also a very creative place, so the demographic was right, and it was well received.
In 2011, the illustration collective LE GUN had their exhibition, Close Eyes to Exit in the Red Gallery in Shoreditch. The show was also a launch of issue 5 of their publication and, they invited us to curate the shop for the exhibition. After the exhibition, the people behind the Red Gallery asked us if we would like to stay and set up a permanent shop in the space. We host exhibitions, live art, literary soirees, symposiums, film screenings, live music and club events.
With a vision of expansive artistic culture, the red gallery plays host to a wise range of exhibitions, live music, film screenings, literary events and symposiums. We came in on a short lease, brought our concepts to London, to Shoreditch, and three years later, we’re still there.

What is your background?

Lucy: Well, I actually studied textile design, fashion at London College of Fashion, and my partner went to LCP and studied graphic design.
Whilst studying, all we did was spend our money on books. Almost every weekend, we’d spend hours in Borders and independent bookshops, in and around London, and our book collection grew and grew. We would have these second-hand books, first editions of sci-fi titles. We would buy books because they had a specific cover that was so beautiful, and they’d be illustrated, and then lots of design books, so we figured that that’s where to go in our lives. We said rather than spend the money on the books for ourselves, we could spend the money on the books for everybody else as well, and then that would fuel our addiction, in a way.

What does a typical day look like for you in the bookshop, if there is a typical day?

Lucy: We try to have a bit of a routine, but it always goes a little bit off course throughout the day. I tend to come in really early, at about half eight, nine o’clock. I check through the sales for the day before and then I go and proceed to prep the shop ready for opening, check the stock level, see what needs ordering, and then I start putting in some orders before lunchtime, and then me and my staff just go through the day serving customers and from there, anything can happen, really. The shape of the day depends on who comes in and what they buy.

Could you tell us a little bit about the process of finding new books and the qualities a book needs to have in order to get shelf space in your bookshop?

Lucy: Well, we find new books numerous ways. We have some key publishers who we stock. So we’ll pick and choose a selection from those publishers. Sometimes, I will just go to catalogs or go to their website to keep an eye on what’s happening, what’s new, what’s just been published. Occasionally, we’ll get their reps who come and see us and show us things, and they start to know over time what we like and what we look for. 
We pick a book according to a category; so we have three or four main categories, areas in the shop: one being children’s books, one being food, and then we have travel, and then we have what I would consider general design and illustration. Within those categories, I’ll pick a book based on the culture behind it. With food books, for example, it’s more about food as a culture, and that’s really been a very growing trend, and food in art and food in design, and how that component will tie in really well to where we are in Shoreditch, as well. The same goes for the children’s books. They’re not just children’s books, they’re children’s books with a really keen eye for design and illustration, so those are kind of our main criteria really. 
Sometimes people will come in and show us their work, for example someone who has published their own book. We’re always happy for people to send their ideas and their products to us, and if we think it will fit in with the shop, we’ll arrange to meet with them, see the product, talk about stocking it, and go from there.

How big of a percentage of the collection that you have are self-published?

Lucy: Not a huge amount, actually. Probably about ten percent of our book selection is self-published, but if you count things like products as well that are self-made and self-published, we have lots of little maps and things that are produced in Shoreditch, and stuff like that.

How often do you buy books from distributors?

Lucy: Well, quite often really. There’s no minimum order on books, so we just top things off as and when they sell, so we’ll put orders in regularly; a couple times a week, I’ll put an order in for new stock or just stocking up.

Does Material attend to any book fairs?

Lucy: We do, but we don’t go to the really big ones. We tend to just go to independent publishers’ book fairs, like the book arts fairs, and things like that, with the purpose of trying to find something a bit more unique and different to add to our selection. 
We don’t tend to go abroad for other book fairs, but sometimes I go abroad to research because I love going into bookshops. It is truly one of my favorite things to do, and instead of going to book fairs I prefer to go out and discover new books and bookshops, and here Paris is one of my favorite places to visit.

What defines your audience at Material?

Lucy: Our audience can be equally divided into fifty-fifty of female or male customers within the main range, mid-twenties to mid-forties. I think that the area the shop is located in defines our audience, and we also shape ourselves to our audience. It’s just hard to say really. It’s Shoreditch; we’re surrounded by design studios, so the kind of audience that we have, only look at something that they find inspirational, something that’s unique and beautiful for the eye of the beholder.

Which market and sales channels do you use at Material to reach out to your audience?

Lucy: Well, we have our website, and then we use Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. We do them all. We try and keep those up-to-date as much as possible and then we do a newsletter, so we have an email mailing list. Also, we promote ourselves through apps like StreetHub and Coach Label. Events, is also something that we have done quite a lot and, of course, book launch, and we’ve done publishers’ launches as well. Usually people approach us, or if we discover something new that we really like, we’ll contact the people and we’ll suggest that maybe they’d like to do a book launch with us and have a little event. So we’ll have a Thursday night drinks and private view type thing. Because the space is so large, it’s quite versatile, so we can change things around, move tables out, move all the books away, make space for people, things like that. 
We don’t really do any major advertising, but we do quite small unique advertising, and most importantly, word of mouth. We do get a lot of people coming in saying, “Oh, my friend told me to come into the shop.” It’s amazing. We get a lot of footfall.

And finally, where do you see books and technology in the future?

Lucy: I believe that despite the fact that e-books are a big thing, people still really like to have something that’s tactile in their hands and read a book from paper, rather than from a computer. I think people get a bit overloaded with technology and with the digital age, sometimes it’s nice just to step back with an actual book quicker than an e-book, and read it. It’s important to people that books still exist, and I don’t think they’re going to get pushed out by technology.

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