Dubai: During a session titled “Expanding Your Digital Footprint: How UK Booksellers Use Online Platforms to Grow Book Sales,” panellists discussed the importance of creating an online presence and expanding digital footprints to boost book sales. They also highlighted the importance of building a strong community of book lovers and using social media platforms effectively to connect with customers and promote books.The informative session featured Mark Thornton from “Bookshop.org”, Sara Dennis from “Mostly Books” and “Borzoi Bookshop”, and Jo Coldwell from “Red Lion Books,” and was presented during the first day of the International Booksellers Conference, which is having its second edition at Sharjah Expo Centre, after a successful inaugural event last year.Connecting with the world and expanding the bookselling marketMark Thornton is the Bookshop Partnership Manager for Bookshop.org, an ecommerce platform designed to help physical bookshops. With over 550 independent bookshops on the platform, Thornton is responsible for supporting and promoting them, including running online events to enhance booksellers' sales and digital skills.Thornton revealed one of the ways their platform supports the industry saying, “Bookshop.org gives 10% of our sales through non-booksellers to a dedicated ‘shared pool’ which ultimately goes back to independent booksellers, and all sales on the platform are carbon neutral, meeting our sustainable goals.” The platform has won several awards, including Best for the World as a certified B corporation. In the US, the platform has helped independent booksellers earn over $25 million, and in the UK, over £2.8 million.The platform is designed to meet the challenge of the long-term trend in online purchases, with 35% of online purchases starting on Google, 25-35% of sales generated through emails and newsletters, and 49% of purchases produced through social media. Advising businesses entering the online world, Thornton stated, "Be authentic and use original content, be sustainable and offer multiple buying options, and be flexible.”Connecting with your passion through the power of communityJo Coldwell, who manages the day-to-day running of the award-winning Red Lion Books, discussed the importance of book clubs and fostering a love of reading within the community. She believes that booksellers should continually adapt in their practices but not forget the reasons they got into the industry.Expanding on this, Coldwell stated, "As booksellers, we need to make decisions about our businesses and practices on a daily basis to keep ahead of an ever-changing world. Having a strong digital footprint ironically gives me the resources and energy to focus on what I truly love, connecting directly with people and providing them with quality reading material."Create a distinctive customer experience for your customersSara Dennis, the owner of two award-winning independent bookshops "Mostly Books" and "Borzoi Bookshop," stressed the significance of creating a distinctive customer experience and building strong relationships with customers. According to her, "Each individual bookshop has its unique selling points, atmosphere, and communities." She also acknowledged the importance of social media and its benefits in reaching new customers and showcasing the personality of the shop. However, she believes that the best way to connect with customers is still through in-person interactions at the physical store.In response to the pandemic, Sara Dennis emphasised the significance of community support for local bookstores. While online sales have increased, she still observed the strength of the local bookstore community, where customers chose to buy from independent bookstores instead of cheaper online alternatives. She also highlighted their online book club as a means of strengthening their community and providing another interface for customers.The International Booksellers Conference is an impactful initiative by the Sharjah Book Authority and aims to promote and support the book industry in the region by bringing together leading professionals and publishing houses from around the world to share their expertise and knowledge. The conference runs from May 1st to May 2nd at the Expo Centre Sharjah and has already proven to be of great value to all in attendance.