Monday, January 18, 2010

Support your local bookshop

In this weeks Sunday Times India Knight has written a piece entitled 'The bookshop strangler: It's a scary whodunnit' in which she looks at the fortunes of Waterstones, which took a nosedive over Christmas, and contemplates a future without this last remaining dedicated bookshop chain and various valiant independents and asks how did this happen and who is to blame?

Let us look at how the bookshop industry might have got itself into this situation. Online retailers and Waterstones themselves have huge clout with the publishing industry which allows them to demand large discounts on titles so they can sell them at less than cost price - hence the 3 for 2 offers and the huge discounting of new releases, independent bookshops can not compete with this and customers looking for 'value' buy books in droves from these sources hastening the death of the independent bookshops but without the independents the chains and onliners have no competition.

Equally, Knight points out, if a debut novelist wants his book not only published but distributed he is reliant on the large chains picking it up and promoting it, if they don't he's stuffed. Thus the large online retailers and chains control not only the price the customer pays for books but also the books that are available to buy.

Customers have turned away from local independents (and this goes for butchers, hardware and other shops) to large chain retailers who offer discounting and a one size fits all model with the only books available being the ones they deem to be the ones we want to buy - hence the sea of celebrity serial biographies. The result seems to be that the customer has got tired of this model, if the latest results from Waterstones are anything to go by, service, knowledge and not having to trek to the nearest large town or city for what you want may be something that book buyers are coming to appreciate we hope!

There is also a knock-on effect of the dirth of bookshops - how do you foster a love of reading and literature in the young if there are no bookshops in which children can physically pick up, touch and look at books. There is nothing like the wonder of a child who opens a book to find that the contents pop up towards them in an explosion of colour and fun or the thrill of picking up a book that you had never heard of a finding that you have read the first 10 pages without realising it. This is what we risk loosing if we loose our bookshops to online retailers, yes they may be cheap but, as Knight points out,

'Amazon is a huge and powerful behemoth that has crushed publishing in its fist. I know it’s nice to buy cheap books (Amazon demands massive concessions from publishers), but publishers have little or no margins as a result and authors’ royalties suffer, too.'
Support your local bookshop, its a place to browse, chat with knowledgeable staff and customers, it fosters the imagination in both young and old and will transport you away from where you are. What other shop can do this and all for an average price of about €9.99!

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