Monday, February 21, 2011

The death of a bookshop

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.


Debbie Coope said...

It is sad news. I hate to think that the future is holding all our entertainment; books, music, videos on a hand held device. Literally in the palm of our hands. I agree, it's definitely the search or the surprise find that is magical about the shop or the library.

Anonymous said...

It's ridiculous to be closing libraries and book shops. The web has clearly taken over our lives and I'm not sure that is a good thing anymore. I can't use Kindles because of my epilepsy but I have been encouraged to send my ms to two e-book publishers. I would much rather have it published traditionally and find it on a shelf in WHSmiths and Waterstones, but it looks like the only shelf I will find it on will be virtual.

CJ xx

Cathy said...

Debbie - I love the convenience of my Kindle but I could never give up printed books either. I think it comes down to a choice of which format to buy...there is after all a lot of free content for the Kindle so it would be possible to have a Kindle stuffed with free books for travelling and to buy new books in paperback or hardback for home. The Kindle is also not good for books with photos or diagrams, the sort of books which are so great to browse in shops.

Cathy said...

CJ - I had no idea that you couldn't use a Kindle if you have epilepsy. I actually bought mine because of the ability to change the text size but even on the normal text size I find it more restful to the eyes than reading a book. And interesting about the e-book publishers. I haven't really looked into that side yet, as wanted to try the traditional route first.

Paul said...

I visited the local Borders store that was closing, thinking I could pick up some good deals, but it was too depressing to me. I didn't buy anything because I felt that I was picking over a corpse.

I did find, however, that my local independent bookstore will allow patrons to order books through it online, to pick up later. I intend to make more purchases that way so maybe my local indie will stay afloat longer.

Cathy said...

Paul - it's interesting that the indie bookshop will allow you to order that way. Possibly the best of both worlds?