Friday, May 29, 2020

The Print Point Post

This week, I pinned the rather marvellous Karen Latto down in her busy schedule and  interrogated her for the sake of the blog.  Karen owns the book shop in Bute, an indie book shop that sells all kinds of wonderful stuff, notebooks, cards, pens and art material.  And you can always get a good coffee and some muffins.

The Book Shop  Print Point

Where is your shop?  

Print Point is situated in Rothesay on the Isle of Bute which lies on the firth of Clyde on the West Coast of Scotland. It is 3 miles wide by 15 miles long and has a population of around 6500 people.

                                                          Packed to the gunnels for an event

How do you commute to work?

I actually live in Glasgow with my husband which is an hours drive to Wemyss Bay ferry terminal then a 40 minute sail across to Bute. I do this commute at the start of the week then stay with my mum in Rothesay 3 or 4 nights during the week, she is a 5 minute walk away from my shop. I have been doing that since 1998!

                                                 Some people who should know better.

How long have you had Print Point  for, and was it a  ambition of yours to own a book shop?

I always loved books and stationery so a year after I left school I wrote to a company called Bute Print to see if they had any voluntary work. They took me on a job-seekers allowance scheme for a couple of years  or so  then offered me a full time job. In 1997 the owners weren't making enough money to stay open so sold it to my 2 colleagues and I for £1.

                                       A few folk here that you should never lend money to...

To me it seems an idyllic existence;  reading books, eating cupcakes and drinking good coffee. What is the reality like?

The reality is that you work more behind the scenes than you do in the shop. You have to be constantly on the ball when it comes to keeping up with new publications coming out as there are a lot of avid readers on the island always looking for the next bestseller. I am usually 2 months ahead in terms of pre-ordering. There is also a lot of paperwork involved, I do all our accounts too! But it is idyllic, I always start the day with a good coffee and couldn't imagine working anywhere else.

              Craig Robertson  trying to keep female crime writers under control in the museum.

What changes in book buying, and selling, have you seen  in the life span of Print Point?

When we first bought Print Point, our main book supplier was and still is to this day Gardners Books. Before technology took over they had a physical catalogue sent to us every year with all the book titles in that they stocked, so if someone was looking for a book you had to thumb through it in alphabetical order to see if they stocked it, then call them to see if they had it to get it sent out! We also had an account with Lomond Books which we still do and they supplied Bargain Books on the High Street so every couple of months we would visit one on Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow and just buy in bulk straight off their shelves. Now it's all done online. Book sales have certainly increased since the earlier days but there is such a vast choice now and since ebooks came on the scene I have noticed that publishers have been making book covers more appealing than ever before.

What adaptations have you made? What do you think has worked well? Have you had any disasters?

We were in our previous shop for 11 years which was around a quarter of the size of our current premises but I still managed to squeeze a lot in. We moved to our current shop because book sales were increasing and I wanted to incorporate a small coffee area to give it a bit of a mainland feel, all the bookshops in big cities were doing this and people seemed to love it. It certainly drew in a lot of new customers and we haven't looked back. Having a bigger shop meant we could host author events too. No disasters yet, touch wood!
                                            Craig doing his impersonation  of a teapot

Many MIE readers are familiar with Bute Noir.  Whose idea was it and how much drink was involved? Does Craig Robertson cheat at the quiz? Why have you never been asked to play the theme tune to Van  Der Valk on the kazoo? Do you have an overriding favourite memory? For me, it’s Mason Cross doing a charade of Attack Of The Unsinkable Rubber Ducks.

Craig Robertson was appearing at our local library with Alexandra Sokoloff during Book Week Scotland in 2016 and I was asked along by the library to sell his books. I had never met him before but asked if he had ever considered hosting a crime festival on the island, he said it sounded like a good idea and would get back to me. I went home quite excited and messaged my friend to say I had approached him about it not realising he was staying at the hotel she worked at. The next morning when he went for breakfast she said to him ‘I hear you are organising a crime festival on Bute’... A few weeks went by and I hadn't heard from him so I messaged him on Twitter, then again, then he finally said if I could find accommodation he would find the authors. 5 minutes later the accommodation was booked, Craig called 10 of his author friends and 6 weeks later we held our first Bute Noir. Re Craig cheating at the Quiz, I'm just there to make sure he never forgets his buzzers. I have no idea why I have never been asked to play the kazoo at the quiz but having seen Michael J Malone’s attempt I doubt I could do any better  and my most memorable moment was probably the end of our very first one, just having achieved it all without a hitch in such a short space of time was pretty amazing. I have to say that Anne Speirs from Bute Museum and Patricia McArthur from Rothesay Library deserve all the credit too, we have a great team.
                                               Crime night at the museum

What do you read?  What book surprised you with the way it sold, or did not sell?

I read crime fiction funnily enough although one of my favourite books is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, not my usual choice but I loved it. My husband and I were lucky enough to see the play in London a couple of years ago too and it was amazing. I think back to the first book I sold multiples of and it was The Little Book of Calm. Just a small pocket book but it sold out so many times. Then Harry Potter of course, we had midnight openings and even held a party for 120 people in Rothesay Castle for The Deathly Hallows, there were bats flying around the courtyard and some children thought I'd brought them along to add to the atmosphere.

What do the good people of Bute read?

Crime fiction is a huge seller on Bute, especially since Bute Noir began as many of my customers have got to know a lot of the authors through various events so are always waiting for the next publication. We also sell a lot of childrens books, nature and Scottish. To be honest anything goes!

How can we lazy Amazon purchasing types help the indy  book shops? Hive ?

Hive is a website set up through Gardners Books to help indie bookshops have a presence online. It stocks books, cd’s, vinyl, gifts and more and you choose your preferred bookshop who then get a small percentage of the sale. We have never had an actual website ourselves but after coronavirus  it may be something we look to in the future so we can promote all our books that way rather than just through social media. The best way to support indies other than going into the shop itself would be to give them a call or drop them an email, I'm sure after lockdown many would be happy to hear from you.

Are indy bookshops making a comeback? What do you think they can offer that the big boys cannot?

Indie bookshops are definitely making a comeback, just like vinyl I think people miss the simple life sometimes. Indies offer a more personal service and can be the hub of their community with book clubs, quiz nights, author events and more. And regarding Print Point, all our events come with freshly ground coffee and home made cupcakes, what more could you want?

You live in Glasgow but where are you from?  I am not a Glaswegian, I was born in Oban and moved to Bute when I was 3. I think of myself as a quarter Scouse though as my grandpa was from Liverpool and its my home from home.

And where are you in the process of  easing lockdown? What changes have you made to facilitate reopening?

We are awaiting Phase 2 of Lockdown which could be anytime in the next 4 weeks or so. We have had a perspex screen put up in front of our counter, have moved some stands around to make more space, put up appropriate signs including ‘Practice panic buying’ and will be allowing 2 people in the shop at a time. I am also planning ‘Book a Browse’ for after normal hours so that people can come in at set times to have a proper look round rather than feel rushed, we have over 4000 books in store so you need more than 5 minutes!

So now you know, go hive and support your indie!

Caro Ramsay


  1. Yay! Looking forward to Print Point opening up again very much! I'll probably need a wheelbarrow to get my new books home! <3

  2. Karen this is so interesting. Love to hear you talking to Caro. Hope we can come down again soon. Do keep a wee eye open for the paperback of When Shadows Fall as I hope to have a signing tour for it in November. Fingers crossed ��

  3. Helen Jackson McLachlanMay 30, 2020 at 1:36 AM

    Interesting stuff,can't wait till I can visit our fabulous bookshop again and see all the new books. We are so lucky on Bute to have Karen et al and our wonderful Print Point where there is always a warm welcome.

  4. Caro, on the photo of Craig trying to keep female crime writers under control (good luck), who's the lovely lass on the far right? Looks familiar.