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Interview Álvaro Manso

Álvaro Manso, bookseller at Luz y Vida (Burgos) and CEGAL spokesperson.

“Bibliodiversity is not only a beautiful word, but a necessary one”.

Álvaro Manso is the spokesman for the Spanish Confederation of Booksellers’ Guilds and Associations (CEGAL) and, above all, a bookseller. He is the third generation to manage the centrally located bookshop Luz y Vida, founded in Burgos in 1948. His is one of the 865 independent establishments that make up the complex and fertile todostuslibros.com ecosystem that was created in 2011. In November 2020, the platform made the leap to e-commerce and 312 bookshops have already activated this functionality. Today, this bibliographic consultation site (it locates more than 1,500,000 titles among its members), online commerce and reading community has become an indisputable point of reference.

The website not only gives you the opportunity to buy books online and choose where to do so thanks to its directory ordered by provinces and autonomous communities, but also allows you to make reservations for in-store collection so you don’t lose that much-needed human contact. The most important thing is that it is the bookseller himself who benefits from the sale and takes care of the order. Without intermediaries.

  How did the idea of creating this internet platform come about in 2011?    

Behind the conception of todostuslibros.com there was a spirit of collective work of small bookshops, through the union of our collections and basically as a geolocation tool. From the beginning, its function was to show in which bookshops the copies were available and to redirect sales to their websites. This functionality, which was, and still is, extremely useful for users, was also useful for the sector, as publishers could find out where their catalogue was distributed, as well as for authors and distributors. We believe that throughout its history, Todos tus Libros has been an example of collaboration, innovation, transparency and respect for the entire book value chain.

Why did you make the leap to an online shop?  

When we started we were not sure how to take the step to become an online sales platform at the same time. Perhaps we were cautious and wanted to protect the individuality of each bookshop, but at CEGAL we had already been considering for a long time the idea that it was essential to position ourselves jointly in the digital space, and to do so while respecting our essence as booksellers, with our own model. In March 2020, at the Booksellers’ Congress in Malaga, we presented the online commerce platform and reading community project. Shortly afterwards, the pandemic hit and the rest is recent history. After a testing phase, in November of that same year we started with the new functionalities and we are satisfied, although we are the first to demand more. We know we have room for improvement and we are on the right track.

“Our platform has the advantages of the online service, without the tyranny of the now and the now that has such an environmental and socio-labour impact, and continues to privilege presence and contact, collection, over delivery”

What does it mean for bookshops to be part of All Your Books?  

Every day, in different parts of the country, hundreds of people enter bookshops looking for the copy that the website has confirmed is available. This factor of visibility, as well as proximity and direct contact with the reader, is of great interest to small businesses. This is the case for all bookshops that form part of the platform’s original ecosystem, that of geolocation. Then, for those bookshops that have activated the online commerce functionalities, it can represent quite a considerable complement to their day-to-day business. In some cases, even more than their own websites.

One of the principles on which todostuslibros.com is based is that of universality, i.e. it offers the same online positioning possibilities to all types of bookshops, regardless of their size and location in the territory. In practice, this means that bookshops can choose reliable distributors and considerably expand the range of books they offer to readers.

Furthermore, it should be noted that Todos tus Libros is not an isolated project, but is closely linked to CEGAL’s other two Big Data tools: Cegal en Red, which is for internal use by bookshops and distributors, and Librired Power BI, which is a sales analysis tool for publishers, and now also for bookshops and guilds, and in the very near future for authors. As you can see, CEGAL is clearly committed to transparency and innovation.

What advantages does todostuslibros.com have for the reader over other platforms?    

All your books is another way to be online. People use our platform to buy, to locate, to get to know, to gather their read or desired books on a shelf. We absolutely respect the user’s privacy and we are specialists in books. We don’t sell anything but books. Our platform has what is good about online service, without the tyranny of the now and the now that has so much environmental and socio-occupational impact, and continues to privilege presence and contact, collection, over shipping.

In the wake of the pandemic, many people have rethought their consumption habits and have become committed to caring for their environment, not to mention an increased interest in reading and printed books.

And for publishers?

We would say that the main advantage is geolocation, the visibility of its collection regardless of the size of the publisher and respect for bibliodiversity. We do not believe that a reading landscape in which the algorithm of a large platform dictates what to publish and read is very desirable. Our technological tools share the same idea, that of equalising the information capacity of both bookshops and publishers, regardless of their size. With Librired Power BI, for example, a small publisher can have the same control over its holdings and the market as a large group. Bibliodiversity is not only a beautiful word, but a necessary one.

Can it also be a useful tool for authors?  

Authors contact us every day because they are very interested in the visibility that the platform offers them. It is, without a doubt, a tremendous showcase and, within the remodelling of the project that we are going to present shortly, we have taken them very much into account.

In November 2021 todostuslibros.com celebrated its first anniversary as a sales website. How would you summarise these 365 days?  

It has been a year of very intense work to explain the specificities of this project to libraries, users and other agents, but, at the same time, it has been exciting. It is not easy to work collectively, from an association, and involving third parties, it is necessary to standardise procedures, methods and very different performances, but we are very proud of the step we have taken. We continue to work on improving the platform. Right now, we are introducing new functionalities for the user and working on adapting it to mobile phones.

“One of the principles on which todostuslibros.com is based is that of universality: to offer the same online positioning possibilities to all types of bookshops, regardless of their size and location in the territory”.

Are there any further developments planned?  

Since November CEGAL has had a todostuslibros.com Development Office, with people dedicated to serving bookshops and users, and a team that is working on the conception of the project that we want to develop with the Next Generation European funds. These funds will take longer to arrive than expected but, as I said before, we are already making improvements.

Everyone asks us about the inclusion of other reading formats, and yes, we are going to include them, but we want to highlight the preponderance of printed books. We don’t know the closing figures for 2021 to be communicated by publishers, but in 2020, of the 2,943 million euros invoiced, only 126 million euros were for digital books.

At the moment we are more concerned that the redesign of the page responds to the needs of the user than to those of the sector, and we are interested in giving more prominence to the visibility of the participating bookshops and their selections and recommendations, as, in the end, this is what differentiates and characterises us. The vocation of todostuslibros.com is to welcome the entire reading community. To be a meeting point for the world of books, with spaces for authors, for publishers to show their catalogue, to create links with libraries, etc.

“Our platform has the advantages of the online service, without the tyranny of the now and the now that has such an environmental and socio-labour impact, and continues to privilege presence and contact, collection, over delivery”

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