January 17, 2020

Petersfield Bookshop gets online boost after “tumbleweed” tweet


Petersfield Bookshop: now a tumbleweed-free zone (Martyn Pattison, under CC BY-SA 2.0)

In January-is-frigging-awful-let’s-have-some-good-news news, The Guardian and others reported The Petersfield Bookshop’s welcome injection of online orders, following a singularly heartbreaking tweet.

The shop, which specialises in antiquarian books, maps and other curios, has nestled in the heart of the pretty Hampshire market town of Petersfield for the last 100 years.

“…Tumbleweed… Not a single book sold today… £0.00… We think think this maybe the first time ever…” tweeted the bookshop’s owner, Robert Sansom, before guiding their followers to their online AbeBooks domain.

Best-selling fantasy author (and champion of libraries, indie presses and other worthy causes) Neil Gaiman, picked up and retweeted the story to his 2.8 million followers. Orders duly started rolling in, and over the course of the evening the shop took over £1000 in sales. It prompted a second, markedly more upbeat missive:

“What a night! We have been completely overwhelmed in a good way. We have 1,100 new followers. We have loads of online book orders. We have over 300 messages, many asking after books. We will answer all as soon as we can, please bear with us… Thank you all so much!”

There’s also evidence these online campaigns can increase physical footfall—even acting as a better advert for the shop than the actual shop itself. Tweeting thankfully in the wake of their unexpected upturn in business, Sansom recounted:

“Chap in shop today: “I’ve lived in Petersfield all my life and never been in your shop. Last night my friend who lives in San Francisco told me I had to come in today.””

There we go, that makes January slightly better, right? Right…? A thousand pounds may not seem a great deal in the grand scheme of things, can be vital for businesses of this size.

It looks as if the number of UK indies is on the increase, if a Booksellers’ Association report released last week is to be believed. This can only be a good thing, but looking past the Insta-friendly book nooks and eau de nil signage of these young upstarts, it’s clear that the old guard – those veteran second-hand dealers and antiquarian specialists, such a vital presence in so many towns – are still struggling. They, too, need our backing—perhaps even more so.


*OK, perhaps not this.

Tom Clayton is publishing executive at Melville House UK.