Interview by Nancy Todd
With a passion for books, authors, and their readers, JJ The Cat and Rod Younger manage the huge task of owning Books4Spain, an online bookstore in Malaga. Of course, a love for Spain is in the mix as their entire store embraces books about Spain. JJ is the top cat reminding Rod to take siestas and eat often.
They know their books and love discussing the perfect book for a gift, beach reading, or backpack. This is an extraordinary site that offers customer service that the big dogs can’t. Nor would JJ allow it. Rod’s top 3 most fav books are: Nice Work by David Lodge (most of his books in fact); Down Under by Bill Bryson and Geisha by Leslie Downer.
Please describe your role with your site.
I am the founder of Books4Spain and have overseen its development from the initial specification of the underlying software platform and website, to project managing the software development, implementation and launch of the website. I also deal with our suppliers, publishers, partners and customers and occasionally authors (we are going to be publishing a limited number of books).
l. What is the most satisfying part of your work?
Two areas really, firstly identifying books which are suitable to go on the Books4Spain website which are not “mainstream” – there are some fascinating, but little known, books about Spain out there and secondly working on developing value added content for our customers, e.g. sourcing books, book reviews, agreeing special offers, etc.
2. Why did you decide to start Books4Spain as a fully fledged book shop with a blog attached?
I launched Books4Spain because of the explosive growth in online mass market ‘soulless’ book retailers, such as Amazon, and the continuing decline of the traditional independent bookshop with knowledgeable staff and an interesting collection of books. Our main objective is to promote and encourage English speakers to learn more about Spain and its rich history and culture through books and to broaden their experience by visiting Spain.
3. What overlooked gems in your region would you recommend to visitors?
Well there are the stunning botanical gardens of Finca La Concepcion and the Automobile Museum of Malaga, which has 85 vintage cars but from my perspective I would recommend people to buy books which have been written by travellers in Spain over the last two hundred and fifty years. The perceptions and descriptions of writers such as George Borrow, Richard Ford, Laurie Lee, Norman Lewis and Michael Jacobs have provided us with detailed insights into Spain and the Spanish over the centuries while the writing and research which writers such as Ian Gibson on Federico García Lorca have made an invaluable contribution to Spanish scholarship and understanding.
Also, an increasing number of Spanish writers’ works are becoming very popular in English translation, such as the novels of Javier Moro – recent winner of the Premio Planeta, Arturo Pérez–Reverte, Manuel Rivas, Carlos Ruiz Zafón, Almudena Grandes and Javier Cercas and Books4Spain aims to bring these to the attention of a wider audience.
4. How do you see the internet in the future affecting your store?
We are exclusively an internet based business and our main challenge is the dominance of Amazon, both in physical books as well as ebooks with their Kindle format. We aim to try and mitigate this by replicating online the experience of a traditional, i.e. bricks and mortar, independent bookshop, by developing an interesting collection of books and eBooks about Spain organised and categorised in such a way so as to encourage people to browse the site, learn more about a particular subject and ultimately buy books and also developing high quality content related to Spain with suitable partners. A key part of this strategy is the development of Spanish Themes, e.g. we launched with Flamenco, Camino de Santiago, and Spanish Civil War with Travel, Holiday & Leisure, Travels in Spain, Food & Wine, Learning Spanish, The Golden Age etc. being developed for 2012. Themes are like dedicated areas in a book shop which contain books covering People, Places and Objects carefully selected for each of these Themes.
There are also sections for Recommended, Our Favourites, Popular, New Releases, Offers, Featured Authors and Coming Soon books. The site also has a blog which contains Book Reviews, Win a Book competitions and a growing number of articles on anything and everything to do with Spanish life.
Ultimately our objective is to create a community of book lovers who have an interest in Spain, its culture and history and to encourage them to buy books about Spain and to visit Spain.
5. What are your favorite foods?
Unfortunately I have a huge liking for tuna which isn’t exactly politically correct given the over fishing so I tend to stick to fresh farmed fish like salmon or sea bass. My other favourite is lamb – leg of or chulettitas lechales.
Related Spain Scoop: The Scoopettes have a list of must read books about Spain, most of which can be found on JJ’s and Rod’s site. We love the old bookstalls in Madrid. Culture in Spain website has more about Books4Spain.
Write The Spain Scoop about your favorite books about Spain.