Monday, January 23, 2006

The death of the high-street bookshop?

In the Independent (link from, Boyd Tonkin has an article on the future of British bookselling. And although the word 'British' is in there, it seems to me that much the same arguments apply everywhere else too.

Tonkin takes the view that British high-street bookselling 'now looks suspiciously like a murder victim who has decided to speed up his demise by committing suicide. The pincer movement executed by the likes of Asda [a supermarket] and Amazon has made the cut-throat discounting of a few sure-fire bestsellers the norm -- with all of its risks to future diversity. Far from resisting this assault, the retail chains -- and the corporate publishers whom they now bully - have opted to act as their own Sweeney Todds [a nineteenth-century Englishman who cut throats. Remember the Broadway musical? Wonderful. But I digress.]. At Christmas, stores worked frantically to teach shoppers that the true value of a much-publicised new book with a cover price of £18 or £20 is, let's say, £6.99. It amounts to voluntary death by a thousand cuts.'

He goes on to argue that, given the increasing difficulty of making any money out of high-street bookshop chains, it would be a smart move for publishers to assist the internet booksellers -- rather than complaining about developments such as Google Print and the Amazon 'Search Inside' facility.

Now, as you may have gathered, you won't read anything in the article that you haven't read before -- here, for instance. So why mention it, then? Well, because I find it encouraging that these fairly obvious truths -- obvious, that is, to those without a built-in fear of losing their job, seeing the share price drop the floor, et cetera ) -- are now becoming so unavoidably true that even the mainstream media have picked up on them.

Question is, who's going to get their arse in gear sufficiently soon to benefit from the opportunities? Instead of playing the Ain't It Awful record, over and over again.


Anonymous said...

Make all wholesale book trade "Firm Sale" - yes, even to Amazon (no more of this Advantage Programme pampering) - and the independent booktrade will survive.

You cannot blame Waterstone's.and W H Smith for renegotiating their supply terms with publishers when they look over their shoulders at the terms demanded by, and then willingly given to, Amazon.

Fortunately, I also trade in "bin ends" as well as secondhand which ensures that my store is a destination within the local area.

Running an independent bookshop is akin to the telegram sent home by the casino gambler "System working well, send more cash"

Clive Keeble

Anonymous said...

Books are almost like living creatures, aren't they? In a book shop you can pick them up from the shelves, feel their covers and pages, read their blurbs and browse through a couple of chapters, all the while knowing there are hundreds more still to be explored. Book shops, for me, are Aladdin's Dens of delight! This can never be surpassed by Internet selling, which is an isolated, inauthentic and artificial pursuit, and which, incidentally, causes more eyestrain than reading a dozen books in a book shop would do. Yes, I do use Amazon for convenience when I know which book (usually academic) I need to buy, but when I am going shopping for a book to enjoy, I want to enter the magic world of the book shop and take my time in this parallel universe that contains a thousand unknown characters in its cabinets. I go in searching for one book to buy, but invariably, because books are such a temptation, in the end I cannot choose just one, and leave with a minimum of two tucked under my arm. Surely there must be many more book lovers like me, who will never give up the thrill and the comfort of being among books in a real book shop?