“…a town isn’t a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it’s got a bookstore, it knows it’s not foolin’ a soul.”
– Neil Gaiman in American Gods (2001)
A few days ago here in UK, a story was going around in the media about a second-hand bookshop in Hampshire whose sales were in such decline that, for the first time in around one hundred years, there came a day on which they sold no books at all. This despite a 25% January sale. Luckily for the family-run Petersfield Bookshop, the tweet they’d sent describing their ‘miserable’ plight was retweeted by author Neil Gaiman (he of the above quote), a message which went viral and helped to create a large boost in the business’s online orders.
I hope they continue to do well, at a time when book shops (and also, due to insufficient government funding in UK, lending libraries) are closing at a great rate, particularly independents (I have seen figures that around two bookshops close each week here).
The above story reminded me of a recent article I read by writer and humourist David Sedaris (during a rare glossy magazine binge at the hairdresser’s) about the risk the ‘rise in e-commerce’ and online shopping present to high street commerce, particularly to the independent outlets. Especially invidious are those “customers” who go into a high-street shop to check out goods, riffle through pages and try on clothes and shoes, only to then order them online at a cheaper price. Some of these people are entirely brazen about it. As Sedaris notes: ‘Go into a bookstore nowadays and all you see is people taking photos of things they’ll order on Amazon, now that they’ve skimmed the first paragraph or felt the novel’s weight in their hands.’
Now, this isn’t a practice I myself engage in—if I am in a shop, it’s with every intention of making a purchase. BUT, to be honest, I rarely go into bookstores any more. It tends to be something I’ll do on holiday, on a weekend or week away, a pleasurable part of a leisurely stroll down a charming and / or historic high street in a town some distance from my own. All bound up (pun possibly intended) with having time to browse, to pick and choose, appreciate that delicious new book smell of ink and expectation.
On any usual day, however, I’ll be ordering my reading matter online, often a straight download onto the Kindle. So, yes. My outward behaviour may be a little more civil, but I am very much part of the wider problem.
In truth, I am not going totally to drop my online shopping habits. Apart from bookshops and perusing local markets, if and when I have the luxury of time, I dislike most forms of shopping. I will make a pledge to improve though.
Independent Bookstore Day is on the last Saturday in April – so on 25 April this year. But we don’t have to wait until then to support our nearest independent bookshop.
If you live in UK, the Booksellers Association has a bookshop search on its website here that you can use to locate your nearest outlet. I am in a semi-rural area but found that I have nine bookshops within a ten-mile radius—had no idea there was so much choice.
Let’s use them before we lose them.
David Sedaris, ‘David Sedaris Has No Patience With Your Online Shopping Habit’ in Vogue UK, December 2019. https://www.vogue.co.uk/arts-and-lifestyle/article/david-sedaris-on-shopping
Booksellers Association bookshop search http://www.booksellers.org.uk/bookshopsearch
Go here to add a hyperlink to your webpage: https://www.booksellers.org.uk/industryinfo/industryinfo/findyourlocalbookshop