Might bookshops soon be a thing of the past?

10421449_674248686040606_4388219743124469781_nBookshops might actually disappear, imagine that. When you think about it there’s no real practical need for them to be there.

Even if we want physical books rather than electronic downloads, and I really do want a physical book I can hold in my hands, then these are readily available online through the mighty A (other online booksellers are available).

So why the need for a shop in the high street? It makes little economic sense to have it there – commercial property rental is expensive, staff wages could be saved. And aside from an extra place to buy coffee your average book shop is not offering the buyer anything that’s not just a click away.

I can only speak for the UK but the truth is that bookshops do feel as though they are slowly slipping away. In most towns the independent bookshop is a thing of legend. Cheltenham, where I work, is quite a bookish sort of place – it has a large and thriving literature festival for example. But there is only one, very recently opened, independent bookshop in the town which was started earlier this year as a labour of love by the owner, a retired doctor.

Even having that one shop makes the town unusual. Gloucester, a bigger city just down the road, has no independent bookshops at all.

Most high streets in The UK have a branch of the one mighty chain Waterstones, as the last bookshop standing. The only other two places where you can buy books at all in the UK’s average shopping centre are WH Smiths, which is a newsagent, and a bizarre chain called The Works, a chain of ‘book shops’ which seems to hate the very idea of books. You can’t go in there and ask for a particular title – they won’t have it, instead they have piles of odds and sods, presumably whatever they have been able to buy cheap in bulk to sell on – regardless of content. That makes up about thirty per cent of the stock, the rest is a curious random jumble-sale of junk – art materials, dvds, toys and games. Oh, and there are also the charity shops of course – there are always plenty of those, overflowing with dog-eared paperbacks.

A lot of people seem suspicious of Waterstones – they are the big guy, putting the little operators out of business. But I am grateful for them, in most places they are the only ones flying the flag for proper book shops, with staff who care about books and decent stock and a pleasant environment in which to browse. If the chain were to go bust that would be the end of bookshops in the British high street.
Boeken_Kringloop_Woerden_03Would it matter? Well for me it would. Yes I know it wouldn’t stop me buying books. And, as an author, I sell more through Amazon than I do through Waterstones and reach more places, since only a handful of Waterstones branches stock my titles. But I think it would be a sad day if the bookshop disappeared.

I like to wander about and browse, pick up books and have a look inside. I’ll be honest, I don’t tend to get in a conversation with the staff or ask for recommendations, but it’s nice to have them there for those who do wish to take advantage of their knowledge.

Truth is though, hard economics and changing habits might mean the shops aren’t there for ever. Look at what’s happened to music stores – the last few shops stocked with CDs seem like museums, dealing in physical artifacts in a digital world. How long before bookshops go that way too?

What’s your view – do you think bookshops will soon be a thing of the past?

puacoverWhy not take a look at my rom com The Pick-Up Artist on Amazon and read the early reviews? ‘Loved this book, a bloke’s view of the dating game, made me laugh out loud.’

To give it a go click here in the UK and click here in the USA.

12 thoughts on “Might bookshops soon be a thing of the past?”

  1. Interesting post, Chris. I for one, sincerely hope that bookshops don’t vanish into the mists of antiquity, for I love to browse, see whats new. Actually pick up a book in my hands. Amazon is good, but cannot compete with a decent bookshop.
    Which makes me incredibly old fashioned I suppose…

    1. I don’t think it does Anita, I certainly feel the same. I fear the worst though as time passes and tastes change.

  2. Over here, the bookshops seem to be doing quite well, but then the Dutch generally don’t like Amazon and do like shopping! I’m really glad about that. I rarely sell paperbacks as this is not my market, but it’s good to see others busy in the book stores.

    1. Perhaps an ideal situation might be if things settle down and online and offline bookshops can co-exist. Will be interesting to see if that happens or the shift online continues to damage high street stores to the extent the are no longer viable.

    1. Me too Nancy. Mind you, I can’t remember the last time I bought a newspaper or a CD and I read as much news and listen to as much music as I ever did. Maybe we would get used to it?

  3. Thanks for the post, Chris!

    I certainly hope that bookstores don’t vanish, because I honestly don’t know what I would do with myself if I could never go to another bookstore. I don’t hate e-books or online retailing, but I would much prefer to have a physical book in hand (the backlight on computers make it difficult for to read, even if its on a low setting, and for some reason those ink e-readers do about the same thing).

    I’m not sure what to think about the future of bookstores. I know many people who love to stop by them, but I also know many who order online. Unfortunately, I can see a world where we don’t have bookstores, and that makes me very sad.

    I live in the US, and I can’t say for other states, but where I’m at we have a decent amount of bookstores, both of the Barnes and Noble variety, and independent. I’ve sadly seen a few of the Indie stores close over the last few years, including one of my favorites, but there are still quite a few, with a truly huge Indie store on the other coast. My new favorite Indie store is about an hour away, sadly, but in my area there are about three or four tiny bookshops. There’s also a Barnes and Noble that I frequent, and I’m friends with pretty much everyone who works there. The idea that they might be out of a job in a few years is both frightening and infuriating, because they work hard to make the store great, and they really love books, and their customers.

    1. Thanks Alexandra – I suppose they are a use them or lose them proposion really aren’t they. And plenty of people, including you and I, are using them at the moment. It just remains to be seen how habits might shift in the future, but only time will tell on that score. Interesting to know there are still plenty of independent bookshops in the USA – does that hold true for every town and city I wonder?

  4. Hi Chris. Have you ever been to the wonderfully named Mr B’s Emporium Of Reading Delights, in Bath Spa? It’s a cracking bookshop that has some very original ideas. I think it demonstrates how bookshops can continue to thrive in the digital era.

    One of its ideas is ‘Mr B’s Reading Spa’, which involves ‘bookish pampering’ and is intended as a gift for someone. If you are lucky enough to receive this gift, a bookseller gets to know your literary interests over tea and cake, then introduces you to books that you might like. A chunk of the fee allows you to you to obtain several books and you are given a mug and a gift voucher for your next visit. I was in there a couple of days ago and a chap was enjoying his ‘reading spa’. The knowledge of the bookseller was broad and deep, and the whole experience sounded lots of fun.

    They also do things like boxes of five ‘mystery reads’ – the latest bundles include the subjects of ‘dystopian Europe’ and ‘strange vacations’.

    The shop itself is packed with character and has quirky furniture. It also provides free hot drinks and it stages author events.

    I mention this shop because it is doing precisely the kind of things that should enable it to survive and thrive in the internet age. Visiting Mr B’s is more than checking out books on a shelf; it is an event in itself, and even the internet would find it hard to replicate the charm and originality. It’s not so easy to chat to a literary expert over the web – certainly not with a drink and a slice of cake, sitting in a comfortable armchair in a delightful building with lovely exposed wooden floorboards.

    Having said all that, I agree with you that Waterstones plays an important role. There was a book I needed urgently and obtained it quicker than Amazon would have sent it to me by visiting the massive Waterstones in Bath’s Milsom Street. A helpful member of staff went out of their way to track it down for me.

    So I’m optimistic about the future of bookshops. I love my technology and sometimes use a Kindle to read books, but I keep coming back to the paper versions and I probably spend more time in bookshops than any other kind of high street shop.

    1. Wow, you’ve certainly made me want to pop into the emporium next time I’m in Bath, it sounds amazing. If on,y all bookshops could be so magical, but it does sound like Mr B is one of a kind. On the other end of the scale I read a news story recently about a grumpy village book seller up north who charges people a fee to come in to his shop and rudely kicks them out of they linger too long without buying anything. Most shops are probably somewhere inbetween those two extremes – like you I hope they survive.

  5. “Do you have this book?”
    “No, but we can order it for you and then you can comedown again to collect it.”
    “Oh dear, that’s a bit inconvenient, but I am really anxious to have it. Will it be in tomorrow?”
    “Oh no. It will take three or four days. We can give you a call and let you know when it arrives.”
    “But that’s how long it will take to get it from Amazon, even if I don’t pay for Prime. And they’ll deliver it to my house, which is where I want to read it. And they’ll be cheaper.”
    “Do you have this book, published by a small but well-regarded independent press?”
    “Can you get it for me?”
    “No. We don’t deal with independent publishers.”
    “But they use the same distributors as these other books. I know you could get them if you wanted.”
    “Yes, but they’re not on our system and it’s irritating to have to add an additional title for only a few sales.”
    “Oh dear. I suppose I have to get it from Amazon then.”
    No, I won’t miss Waterstones at all.

    1. I hear what you are saying Tom. Amazon is pretty convenient which is one reason why it’s thriving. I do think it would be a shame if high street bookshops disappeared though, including Waterstones. Also fair to say small press authors like me have benefitted from Amazon’s universal availability.

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