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2012 - An end of term report

This seems like a good moment to round up what's been going on with TheBookGuide since I wrote Now We Are Ten, last year. I've touched on a few of the site developments in the news sections, but I know that at least some of you are more broadly interested in what we are trying to do.

Firstly, I'm sorry I've had less opportunity to write about the book biz in general this year, but a downside of the guide's increasing popularity is the amount of time admin has eaten up, although I expect better data management to reduce this next year.

It's not really surprising that growth has had this effect, when our site stats show that the over the past two years the number of unique visitors has more than doubled to over 2,200 a day - and at what is traditionally the quietest time of the year for the site. And although I would be the first to acknowledge that there are "lies, damned lies, and statistics", trying to understand what these numbers mean is vitally important in effectively promoting the site.

Without proper promotion a site such as ours is essentially pointless. It doesn't matter how good the content is, if it isn't effectively helping customers support our hard-pressed book trade. At the end of the day, more books in bags are the only statistics that really matter.

To this end, one of the things I've been doing for the past few months is trying to get to grips with Twitter. I know, I know, everyone and their dog got there first, - and whilst the popularity of sharing banalities eludes me - I can't deny Twitter's potential for reaching new readers.

This is well illustrated by a recent response from a man who had followed a retweeted link of ours and "discovered a treasure trove of books that was just under my nose the entire time!" This ability to literally put information in front of the reader is something I will continue to develop in 2013.

Alongside promotion, we've been trying to improve the usability of the site. The focus this year has been on extending the content management system and improving search options. Next year will see these improvements incorporated into a redesigned site, which should offer a better user experience.

The first step towards achieving this has been devising a new navigation system for the site. We've started with the bookshops listings, where the dynamic menu should allow readers to locate the shops in a town in just one click - but also just as easily investigate shops by region, or browse by county - again, with just one click. The choose shop by stock option is also greatly improved by having all the choices visible, rather than having to scroll down.

You can preview the new shops navigation menu here. However, you should be aware that the breadcrumb trail return navigation at the head of the town results page is not yet working. When implemented, you have the choice of going back from the town results, to the county, and then the region - as you do on the existing site.

Please try out the new menu and let me know what you think. A number of these changes have been made as a result of readers' comments, and the more people who test it the better the end result is likely to be.

Finally, I'm always being told that secondhand bookshops are an endangered species, but the truth is in fact rather more interesting. The last time I wrote about the future of secondhand bookshops was in The Writing on the Wall, in 2009. Here is what I said about the number of shops then:

"In 2005 I guestimated that there where at least a 1000 shops in the UK, in April 2007 our database held 1078, and in April this year we were listing 1097. Of the 2009 total, 114 are charity bookshops run by Oxfam and others."

The numbers today are: open shops on our UK database - 1113, of these 207 are run by charities. This means that since July 2009 we have lost about 8% of the independent bookshops in the UK. However, during the same period there has been an 83% increase in charity bookshops.

I can only hope these numbers will finally give the lie to the idea that "Oxfam killed the secondhand bookshop". Whilst there has been a huge growth in the number of charity bookshops, they are still very much in the minority, and the shrinkage in the number of independents - given the recession, growth of the internet and e-readers - is reassuringly small.

However, the adage "If you don't use them you'll lose them" is still true - so get out and enjoy a bookshop over the Christmas holidays.

Mike Goodenough