Thursday, November 22, 2012

Death of the bookstore?

The other day I gathered my courage in both hands and asked at my local book shop whether they'd be willing to carry a few copies of Gleams.  The owner was both charming and deeply apologetic, but the answer was a firm 'no', and here's why.

He's been running the same store in the same location for over twenty years.  Currently his annual rent is somewhere in the region of £25,000 (which probably equates to around $35,000 or even $40,000 for those of you across the pond).  And thanks to the rapid emergence of e-books, Kindle and the like, he simply can't sell enough books to make ends meet.  He told me he honestly doesn't know how much longer he can keep going, is unlikely to still be there next year, and for that reason can't commit to carrying any additional stock, even if it's from a local author.

Particularly galling for him is that more and more people are using him as a sort of 'shop window'.  They go in, scan the covers of the books they want on their mobile phones, and then go out again without making a single purchase, to order the books more cheaply online.  Fair enough, vast online stores are always going to be cheaper - they don't have the same overheads as a small, one-man-band operation.  Even so, that does seem a little... I don't know... underhand.  The least they could do is buy a single paperback, or even a bookmark or a birthday card, while they're in the store.

I have a feeling that the next five years could see the end of the traditional book store here in the UK.  It's a crying shame because they are wonderful places, full of opportunity to browse the shelves, find new authors, be transported to a magical new world.  When was the last time you discovered a completely new book or writer on Amazon?  It's far more likely you go online with existing details, and simply buy the book you want.

However, change happens, and I do think that the owners who manage to adapt their book stores to the current economy (perhaps by offering coffee, or an internet cafe where buyers can order their books online) are the ones who are going to survive.  In the meantime, I wish my local book shop all the best, and can only hope it lasts longer than the owner thinks it will. 

And that I can find other places to stock my book...

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