Architecture books and global service: three lessons that we’ve learned so far 03.10.2019

Believe it or not, but our tiny architecture bookshop celebrated its 3rd anniversary this summer. These first three years have been quite something. We’ve learned so many new things, we’ve done so much work, and we’ve met so many new, interesting people. Most importantly, global service has been such fun! As a some sort of a jubilee blog post, I thought it might be a good time to reflect our learning curve so far. So, here you are: three lessons that we’ve learned during our first three years in book business.

1. Architecture is a global interest

The featured image of this blog post is a screen capture from our Google Analytics data from September 2019. As you can see, our online architecture bookshop site has received visitors from almost every corner of the world. What’s even more fantastic, the site visits have also converted into actual sales. Architecture is a global interest: we’ve shipped architecture books to almost every country in Europe, and our farthest customers so far live in Australia, Japan, the US, Canada and China. Hello there, our international friends! Thanks for visiting, look forward to seeing you online soon again!

2. Don’t skimp on packing materials

It’s actually quite surprising how few mishaps we’ve had with our shipments so far. Here in Finland, there’s been quite frantic public discussion about the quality of Finnish postal services recently, but we have nothing to complain about. On the contrary, once we found a good service provider, learned not to skimp on packing materials and started adding yet another extra layer of cardboard and brown paper, things have run pretty smoothly (knocking on wood).

To be honest, we’ve had only two serious incidents with the shipments, both from 2019. The first mishap was a shipment that had suffered a nasty cut at some point on its route from Helsinki to our customer in Madrid, Spain. The book inside was ruined. As soon as our customer contacted us about this, we contacted our shipping service provider who lodged a complaint with the logistics firm. We got compensated for the book and the shipping fees, and we sent a new book to our customer.

Another mishap took place only a month ago, and it’s a missing shipment case. Our customer in Amsterdam contacted us and was rightfully worried about the delay in the delivery estimation. The tracking code showed that his book had gone missing at some point between Germany and The Netherlands. Again, as soon as we heard about this, we contacted our shipping service provider who took care of prompting the logistics firm. At the moment, the international investigations are still going on, so hang in there, Bart, there’s still hope that your book will be found. If not, we’ll compensate you fully for your expenses. [Edited 4 October 2019: good news, the book was found and it has now been delivered to our customer].

3. Have a feel for books and their owners

Books are funny, and architecture books can be even more surprising. I haven’t met anyone yet who didn’t love their architecture book collection and didn’t feel the pain when forced to depart from it – for whatever the reason. Every book carries memories: “I bought this book when I was only a poor student”; “we studied this book at the office day in, day out, when we were working on our project for XYZ”; “I got this book from my then-boyfriend who was really into this architect and tried to educate me” and so on.

The same phenomenon applies the other way round. Vintage architecture books evoke strong emotions: “oh wow, look at the images/layout/typography”, “I’ve always wanted to learn more about this architect and this book will be a fantastic companion”. One of the most rewarding aspects of having a book shop is to be able to provide the customer with the book they’ve searched for for a long time, or they never knew that such a book even existed in the first place. Books about Finnish architecture and architects have been especially rewarding to distribute to international readers. Sometimes we feel like being some kind of architectural ambassadors. Glad to be at your service!

This third lesson has been the easiest one to learn. As I’m a book lover myself, I have a feel for books and their owners. We have a Peter Eisenman quote on our invoices saying “a book lasts longer than a building”. Well, we’ve learned that books can break and get lost. Some books can even go stale, but after a while make a huge comeback. So maybe the most important lesson of all could be: architecture books can have more durable value and carry more meanings than most of our architecture. And that’s what makes having an architecture bookshop worthwhile.