On Saturday I wandered, possibly for the last time, into our local branch of British Bookshops. It's a shop I've browsed in almost weekly, a shop in which I've purchased not only books, but cards, magazines, stationery and craft materials. It's closing down later this week and a crowd was picking over the discounted stock.
Further up the street a more recent arrival, crammed with what appears to be mainly remaindered books, is also announcing impending closure. In the village a few miles up the road one of the two independent booksellers closed some time ago to make way for a coffee shop. The remaining bookshop is tiny and whilst it is no doubt good for ordering books, somehow I don't find it inviting for browsing. There's not enough choice.
That, I suspect is the key to this. We've all become used the the huge choice of the online booksellers, to getting exactly what we want rather than what happens to be in stock or what we've heard of. Through Amazon we can even peek inside many books or download a sample on to a Kindle, we can try before we buy just like we can in a bricks and mortar shop, but in the comfort of our own homes.
As a student I worked in a bookshop and I know that experienced booksellers are incredibly helpful and knowledgeable. But I wonder if the online community is gradually taking over that role via social media. My own Twitter stream is crammed with tweets by readers, writers, bookshops and publishers and I regularly read book blogs and other reviews. Because I now find shopping more physically difficult I'm increasingly reading books I see recommended, rather than random discoveries in a shop. I used to love Borders before its demise in the UK, but I'm no longer sure I want to walk around such a big store. My shopping has become more targeted.
We can still buy books here. We have WH Smith and a small branch of Waterstone's and perhaps, in the current economic squeeze, that will suffice. Books are sadly becoming a luxury item for many people, as are magazines, and yet libraries are threatened with closure. That doesn't make much sense to me.
And I'm very sad to see British Bookshops disappear. My Saturday afternoons won't be the same.