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Book Selling Vs Book Keeping

The Bookseller’s Association website warns hapless book-addicts like myself against the dangers of plunging into book-selling. But unfortunately until you are set up with a trading address as a bookseller you cannot actually join the Bookseller’s Association in order to find out what these dangers might be. I am now beginning to find out.

When you order books from the wholesaler, you need a line of credit. I had no idea what this was. It means that based on my previous trading history I am allowed to buy books up to a certain limit of money, after which I have to pay for them. I have absolutely no trading history. But I do need books in order to open a book shop. So I was allowed up to a certain amount. Which I spent in about a day and a half browsing on the website.

So until now I have bought some books I like the sound of, and from time to time phoned up the suppliers and asked if I am allowed any more, or if I need to pay them some money. But the enormous pile of paperwork that arrives with the books does not seem to have on it anywhere the running total of what I owe or a date by which it has to be paid. So I log on to their website with my secret magic word to find out what the extent of the damage is so far, and how much money I need to pay by the end of the month. I click on various tabs that say ‘statement’ and ‘account’ and ‘invoices’ and I cannot find out anything I need to know. So I phone them up.

It goes a bit like this:

‘So I’m sorry to be a bit slow here, but I’m looking at my main page for my account, and I cannot see which tab will tell me how much I owe, or when it is due.’

‘I’m sorry but we cannot see the website as you see it. We have no access to that.’

‘So you cannot tell me which of these tabs will lead me to this information?’


‘But the information is there?’

‘Not exactly.’

‘So there is nowhere on my account page that will tell me how much I owe you in total to date?’

‘No. You would need to phone us up to ask us that.’

‘I see. So can you tell me that now?’ ( She kindly does.) ‘And can you tell me where it says what date this amount would be due?’

‘You would need to look at the invoices.’

‘At each individual invoice?’ ( There are about twenty.)

‘Well the tax date on the invoice is the date you ordered it. And it says across here in this corner, thirty days.’

‘So I need to look on each invoice, and record the amount and add thirty days to the date on the top marked ‘tax’?’

‘No, the thirty days is from the end of the month in which the tax date is recorded. So all your invoices raised in May would be sent out as a bill on the last day of May and have to be paid by the end of June.’

‘Right. So all I need to know about the date on the invoice is what month it is in, and then add on another 30 days to that for when it is due? And where does it tell me that?’

‘It doesn’t.’

‘And where does it show on the website if it has been paid, and on what date?’

‘You can’t see that.’

‘I see.’ There is a bit of a pause here while I wonder if I am a good enough customer yet to suggest that this system is a bit awkward, especially for beginners. I decide not to. It takes a few more painfully obvious questions and some rapid work on a pocket calculator on the other end of the phone for me to learn how much of the total I owe is due at the end of this month, and how much a month later, none of which could be found on the account page. I change my mind about saying something mildly critical.

‘I know I’m new to this, but it does seem as if the process is a bit unhelpful, wouldn’t you say?’ ( I have some idea from reading too many romantic books written between the wars on the subject of book shops that this is the way booksellers ought to talk.) ‘What do people usually do?’

‘They phone us up and ask.’

So much for the slick new digital age. My system of writing everything down in an A4 notebook and passing the book along to whoever is on duty that day now looks quite state-of-the-art, even though it often ends up covered in messages about wordle, the daily codeword, cheerful little doodles, rows of kisses and confessions about how many of the cakes we ate ourselves.


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