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JOYLAND BOOKS CONFIDENTIAL: THE STORY
Article: Added April 2010
In April 2000, Joyland Book opened its doors to the world wide web, and the world's biggest retailer of amusement park, fairground, circus and seaside books and videos was born. This is its story - everything you didn't know about this unique online retailer...
It is April 2000 and a small niche bookstore opened on the world wide web. Theme park planning consultant Nick Laister and his wife, Nicola, had decided to open an online store to sell a book he was in the process of writing, which would later become Pennies by the Sea. Essentially, the website would be a way of promoting a book that would have a very specialist audience.
In 2000, although expanding rapidly, the internet was still in its infancy. Nick was aware that in the 1990s the amount of books available on the subjects of amusement parks and roller coasters had increased significantly and there was no one place on the web that brought it all together. He therefore decided that this website could start to dip its toes into this area, so that by the time of the release of 'Pennies by the Sea', the website would have built up a customer base. The website would provide a place where anybody with an interest in the wonderful world of amusement parks and rides could find a selection of books that otherwise would not be available elsewhere, or if they were, would be hard to find. If the website worked, it would be an ideal launch pad for 'Pennies by the Sea'.
The website was initially set up at Nick and Nicola's home in Wantage, Oxfordshire, using free web space on Freeserve, with a very basic website assembled on the now long defunct Microsoft FrontPage Express software. The web address of the site was the not particularly memorable www.joylandbooks.fsnet.co.uk.
But Joyland Books was an immediate success. Nick and Nicola decided to invest time and money in making Joyland Books a must visit website for anybody with an interest in amusement parks. Initially it expanded slowly and cautiously. The bookstore was expanded in June to start selling secondhand books, and in July a news service was launched that not only brought visitors information on new book releases, but also included the latest theme park news from around the UK.
In 2001, Nick and Nicola got more ambitious about the growth of Joyland Books and with a growing confidence implemented a number of major advances, some of which would involve real financial risk. Early that year, the website moved from the 'fsnet' website to its own dedicated domain, joyland.co.uk. This lasted for a few months, before it was decided to change to a web address that was exactly the same as the name of the business, plus with a ".com" rather than ".co.uk" address to reflect the high percentage of orders from overseas. We therefore settled on joylandbooks.com. That has remained our website and brand since 2001, and is here to stay.
Also in 2001, Nick and Nicola decided to dip their toes into the world of web forums, and hosted their own fairly basic message board. This had a slow start and was gradually upgraded until the current Forum was launched in January 2003, which is hugely popular and at the time of writing has over 730 registered users.
In July of that year, Joyland Books made its biggest investment to date when it started accepting credit cards and allowed for purchases online via the website. Joyland installed a new shopping cart system and, unlike most smaller retailers, decided that rather than simply accepting PayPal, it would try and compete with major retailers by accepting credit card processing. This was a costly, but ultimately successful move, that assured Joyland's status as a serious retailer.
Customer security was a major consideration in the upgrade. Joyland Books continues to use the most advanced encryption technology available. The website accepts all major cards, including VISA, Mastercard, Maestro and - unlike a lot of high street names - American Express. However, realising that some customers still prefer to pay by cheque, Joyland provides printable order forms so that customers can order via the post. This is an option that many major online retailers do not offer. These changes were a major financial investment for what was at the time a very new business, but it has undoubtedly contributed to Joyland's status as the world's biggest specialist supplier of amusement park, fairground, circus and seaside books.
Our final innovation of 2001 was the expansion from books into videos, DVDs, CD-ROMs and magazines. Joyland had truly become an online destination by the end of that big year!
2002 was the first time the paths of Joyland Books and the famous Dreamland Amusement Park in Margate were to cross. Nick Laister produced a report requesting that the Scenic Railway - a 1920 wooden roller coaster, the oldest in the country - be listed by the Department of Culture Media and Sport. In March 2002 it was announced that the ride was to be listed - the first time an amusement park ride had become a listed building. Joyland Books and Dreamland were to become very closely associated with each other over the coming years.
By mid-2002, Joyland Books had amassed a huge collection of photographs of British amusement parks through the years. In recognition of this vast resource, Joyland Books launched the Amusement Park Photographic Library, which supplies the world's media with images of amusement parks and rides. The site was a success and continues to this day.
In July of 2002, Joyland opened a brand new department focussing on seaside books and videos. This seemed a logical progression from amusement parks and fairgrounds, and was a resounding success. By the summer of that year, Joyland was awarded membership of the Which? Web Trader scheme, which recognised online retailers of the highest quality. Joyland proudly remained a member of the scheme until its closure in January 2003.
In January 2003, Joyland Books launched a campaign to save Margate's Dreamland Amusement Park. Joyland had led the campaign which secured listed building status the previous year. The Campaign, which is still running at the time of writing, has also spawned a trust for the rebuilding of Dreamland as the world's first amusement park of historic rides. Funding of £12m has been received or committed to the project, and the Joyland Books-based campaign has rescued numerous rides from the scrapheap, including all the historic rides from Southport's Pleasureland.
Between 2003 and 2007, Joyland Books experimented with operating a sales stand at fairground related events, including several Fairground Weekends at the Dingles Fairground Heritage Centre in Devon and the Fairground Model Show at Long Eaton. Whilst this was a good way to extend the brand and meet people, it proved not be a profitable venture when travel and other costs were taken into account, and Joyland Books retreated back into cyberspace.
In a further expansion, 2005 saw the introduction of our massive Circus store, with books, DVDs and an unbelievable collection of rare and out-of-print books. This store has now grown to be the world's largest.
In October 2006, the book Pennies by the Sea: the Life and Times of Joyland Amusements, Bridlington by Nick Laister was released. This was something of a milestone as it is the planning of this book in the late 1990s that resulted in the launch of Joyland Books in the first place (see interview with Nick Laister). In the run-up to the launch, Joyland Books founder, Nick Laister, held a special evening of amusement memories at Bridlington Library. the book itself was released on 15 October 2006, and was celebrated with the launch of a special website: www.joyland.co.uk. And, yes, this is the same web address that was previously used by Joyland Books in its early years. Some websites have not updated their links, so some people expecting to visit Joyland Books end up on a website about a Bridlington amusement arcade!
As the decade progressed, it became clear to Nick Laister that Joyland Books was becoming more than a store; it was becoming a destination, especially for people with an interest in the history of amusement parks. In an unexpected move in 2007, Joyland Books relaunched the world's best loved amusement park nostalgia website, Gary Radice's themagiceye, which had closed down a few months before. Joyland pledged to bring the entire website back over several months, and then to develop it further to cement its already strong position on the World Wide Web. The project was a great success, with the entire original website online by the end of 2009 and a programme of new articles and features now being rolled out.
Then came the big move. In October 2008, Joyland moved from its original home (in an extension to a residential dwelling at Wantage, Oxfordshire) to its new, 5-acre site near Chipping Norton. The move to Southcombe Farm was a difficult time for Nick and Nicola, as running a business whilst moving house, when the business is moving as well, was almost impossible. Delivery times slowed to around 10 days, instead of the usual 2 to 3 days. Books were dispatched from a residential dwelling in Didcot, Oxfordshire, and finding books became exceptionally difficult with large parts of the stock in storage in Banbury and the rest in boxes.
Finally, Joyland landed at Southcombe Farm in November 2008. The Farm comes with numerous outbuildings - a barn, stables, a recording studio, two-storey workshops, a former farm shop and a house! Joyland Books now has a dedicated office in a 150-year-old Cotswold stone building and the former recording studio is used for book storage. The business got back to normal quickly, and with masses of expansion space it now has room to grow.
The business took something of a hit in late 2008, though. This was probably brought on by the large message on the front page warning people of delays in delivery caused by the move. It set the business back several years in terms of both website hits and sales. Or was that the effects of the credit crunch turning into a full-blown recession? Whatever the reason, it took Joyland Books almost a year to recover from the effects of the move, but recover it did, and is now powering along more successful than ever.
Joyland will continue to expand and remain true to its core business focussing on being the best place to visit on the world wide web for amusement park, fairground, circus and seaside-related books, DVDs, CDs and other merchandise. We will continue to support the Save Dreamland Campaign and the efforts to build a thrilling theme park from the past in Margate. We will bring you more outstanding articles and galleries of interest to our customers in themagiceye and the Amusement Park Photographic Library will remain the first choice of the world's media for images of amusement parks and rides.
In addition to this, we continue to work on plans to bring Joyland Books out of the internet and into the real world as part of a new visitor attraction in Oxfordshire. Planning permission has already been granted for what will be a unique place for children to visit. More on that on the Joyland Books News Page over the coming months...