Over the last few months, Jon Page went from being a buyer for Dymocks’ iconic flagship store in Sydney, to buying for online shoppers nationwide. Now, he’s the general manager of the 90-year-old George Street store, said to be the largest book and stationery store in the country. Here, he talks about the slow return of CBD shoppers and how Covid-19 finally put an end to the debate over the death of bookstores. Inside Retail: As a journalist, I might be biased, but working with books or in a
n a bookstore is one of those jobs that a lot of people think would be really dreamy. Does it live up to the hype? Jon Page: Yes and no. Working with books everyday is a dream job. Being able to discover new books and new authors and then put those new books and new authors into new readers’ hands is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the job and one that can’t be replaced by any other career. But a lot of people think working in a bookstore means you can read books all day and you can’t! There is never time because new and old books are constantly coming in and going out. Which also means you take many more books home for yourself! But honestly I wouldn’t want to work in any other job. IR: What does a typical day look like for you? JP: Firstly there is no such thing as a typical day, which again is what makes this job the best. Every day is different. There are different books coming in, different customers coming in and always a different challenge to meet. But a semi-normal day would involve arriving at the store around 8am. Making sure everyone has what they need for the day before we open and trying to get as many administrative tasks done before the floor welcomes the first customers of the day. Once the store opens it is all about the customers. Ensuring we have all the stock out and displays right and making changes necessary depending on that day’s releases and restocks. There’s the day-to-day managing of the roster and breaks and fitting in whatever else needs to be done in between the busiest periods of the day. And then catching up as much as possible before close. Putting books in the hands of readers is the best part of the job for Page. Image: Supplied IR: How has your job changed during Covid? JP: When Covid hit I was the buyer for the store. I went from buying for our CBD customers to suddenly having to cater for our online customers around the country as foot traffic almost dried up and online sales grew exponentially. Demand for particular books went through the roof and the types of books people were looking for shifted dramatically. When the schools went to home learning, study guides and basic skills workbooks were in high demand, but after six to eight weeks this demand dried up. Games, puzzles, crosswords and adult colouring-in were big items, but this demand also ebbed and flowed. Then came baking and then gardening. Each spiking and flattening. It was a great challenge trying to identify these demands and ensure we had adequate stock to fill these orders and then adapt to the next focus. However, coming hopefully out of Covid now I have the new job as general manager of the Dymocks Sydney store. The challenge now is to get the store back to pre-Covid levels; however, there is still a significantly reduced number of people working in the CBD. These numbers are slowly growing, but at the same time, new outbreaks could be around the corner. There are so many unknowns it makes planning ahead very difficult. But the one thing Covid has shown is that books remain a very important item in the marketplace. Reading has increased 30 per cent in Australia since March. Books and bookshops aren’t dying, they’re more important than ever and that means there is a great opportunity to build Dymocks George Street into one of the best bookshops in the country. A place where all the books, games and stationery needs of Sydney can be met in the one place with exceptional service and product knowledge. Something that is almost impossible to replicate online. IR: When you think about the future of your sector, what are you most excited about? JP: After all the doom and gloom talk of the past decade about whether or not e-books and e-commerce were going to see the end of bookshops, I’m excited that we have finally dispelled that myth. The book is a technology that has lasted over 600 years and will last 600 more. I am excited that in the post-Covid world we won’t have to have the endless debate about the book being replaced or bookshops not being able to survive. Covid has shown the value of books and bookstores and that optimism makes me excited about the direction our industry is heading next. Bookstores are in for a bumper Christmas as delayed releases all come at once. Image: Supplied. IR: Do you have any favourite books for business and/or life advice? JP: I am a big fan of Daniel Pink. His books Drive and To Sell Is Human are two of my favourite business books and are incredibly insightful. And the book I have next on my reading pile is The No Asshole Rule by Robert Sutton. IR: A lot of book releases occur in the run-up to Christmas. Which ones should people keep an eye out for? JP: There are more books than ever before coming out this Christmas thanks to scheduling delays throughout this year. Some have already hit the shelves while there are plenty more coming out in the next few weeks. The big titles include Barack Obama’s new memoir, the first volume looking at his time as President. There are some amazing cookbooks with the new Yotam Ottolenghi Flavours already a bestseller leading the way. There are so many great books to mention for all readers – young and old, fiction non-fiction and children’s books. But if there was one book I would say everyone has to grab it would be Honeybee by Craig Silvey. This is Craig’s first novel since the incredible Jasper Jones. Honeybee is one of those rare books that makes the hairs on your neck stick up as you read it. It’s exhilarating and profound. It’s the reason I read books and I can’t wait to put it into lots of readers’ hands. IR: Time for our lightning round questions…physical book, e-book or audiobook? JP: Physical book IR: Fictional character you most identify with? JP: Corporal Fife from The Thin Red Line by James Jones. IR: Most overrated literary classic? JP: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.