Interior of McNally Robinson Booksellers (McNally Robinson)
It is no secret that the book selling business is somewhat in flux. E-books, the internet, and online book distribution giants like Amazon have really taken it to smaller, locally owned book retailers.
In Winnipeg we have already witnessed this with the financial troubles that have been faced by both Aqua Books, and the larger, multi-location McNally Robinson Booksellers. Both stores offer programs that go far beyond selling books, while McNally Robinson is continuing to expand its business further by offering an education.
Starting on February 1st, 2012, McNally Robinson will be utilizing the space normally set for events as a classroom setting, as their Community Classroom program begins. Prospective students can register online for various classes that will teach everything from architecture, to film studies, to UFO identification, to puppetry (and that is just scraping the surface).
For co-owner Holly McNally, this move toward offering classes is not a survival tactic, but an integral part of the company philosophy. "We have always been a business and a cultural hub. This was our model even when we were small stores in the 80s and 90s" said Holly McNally in a recent interview. "All business models constantly need adapting and adaptation is certainly a rallying cry for bookstores facing challenges in the 21st Century" she continues. She notes that 80% of its sales are still from books.
"For decades we have been hosting events in the store" said McNally. "Author talks are often short. They offered a taste, [so] it became clear to us that many of these speakers had much more to offer an audience. The classroom therefore becomes a natural extension of our events program."
The Community Classroom program will operate much like a university -- there is a tuition to be paid (albeit at a fraction of cost) while many of the instructors are either respected academics or are well known in their artistic fields who are being paid for their work.
"Instructors are definitely not volunteers. They are involved in setting the tuition" said McNally. "It is a 50/50 split between the instructor and the bookstore."
The instructors themselves will develop their curriculum and will teach how they see fit.
This new approach to educational classes in a bookstore appears unique in the Canadian landscape. With such a rich history of presenters, authors and educators, finding suitable instructors turned out to be a fairly straightforward task.
"We approached many erudite, dynamic people in the community, many with whom we have had previous contact as authors, artists, presenters" said McNally. "Reception was overwhelmingly positive and we are humbled by the response from so many knowledgeable professionals and skilled artists" she continued.
With classes beginning in under two weeks it will be intriguing to see what the response will be. Some of the classes are filling up fast and it remains to be seen if McNally Robinson will have a new shiny feather in its educational cap.