Retailers of all stamps are constantly chasing the elusive must-have item ‘du jour’ and television is our friend in creating that ‘I need one of those’ feeling amongst customers. Remember Delia and the cranberries? Nigella licks her fingers on prime time, sprinkles little ruby-coloured seeds over her cupcake and before you know it greengrocers nationwide are besieged and you can’t get a pomegranate in Fulham for under a fiver. We don’t sell food in the bookshop, although we will let you bring your coffee in to browse. So long as you are careful, we like to treat our customers as adults but it can be hard to get cappuccino stains out of the book jackets.
Anyway, although we feel no need to slavishly follow the ingredient fads of celebrity chefs, book sales too can be affected by whatever is on the telly. The challenge for us shopkeepers is to second guess the general populace when stocking up (leave it too late and the book of the moment has gone to reprint). The excitement, the anticipation as you place your order at the wholesaler are delights which can only be imagined by non-retailers. Will the new series on ITV, The Great Fire, capture the public imagination? Will residents of Cheapside start burying cheese in their gardens and clamour for books on 1666? Or will this one fizzle, maybe the costumes won’t have enough lace or the king will have a weak chin? One false step and next month could potentially see us with shelves groaning with unsold copies of The Great Fire Unclassified.
Rather than gamble on a new series, one can always go with an established favourite. Downton Abbey is a series (indeed a series of series) which has captured and held the love of the sofa-bound. There are those who whisper it has lost a little of its initial gloss but we all still turn it on religiously on Sunday night and relax with glass or mug in hand. Viewing figures may be down to 8.43 million but that is still 8 million people watching the same thing, at the same time and tweeting and “like-ing” to their followers (TV is no longer the solitary activity it once was). I come from a country whose total population is half that. More people are concerned about who Lady Mary will marry next than cared enough to vote in the recent New Zealand general election.