With all the talk of “Independence” this week (don’t worry, I’m not going THERE) it will have escaped the notice of most people that it is Independent Bookshop Week (18-25 June).
Most of us in the UK have been watching the pennies closely in the last few years. Hobbies and interests are often the first things to suffer in a recession so it’s no surprise that book sales have fallen. The rise and rise of Amazon, and its ability to offer often huge discounts, has threatened many independent businesses, not just booksellers, and the supermarkets have got in on the act too; my local branches of the big four all now devote an entire aisle to books.
But there are some reasons to be hopeful: figures published earlier this year showed a rise in physical book sales for the first time in four years. E-book sales have plateaued showing that, whilst they have their place, most of us still prefer the visceral pleasure of paper at our fingertips. Amazon has itself become an online department store, it’s much less about books these days, and, yes, guilty as charged, I do buy some books from them, especially non-fiction or books the kids need such as academic editions. But, they’re not always cheaper, and I often find I spend more as I try to top-up my purchase to get the free postage. Where’s the saving in that?!
Waterstones dominates, and it is a very good business model. I like the way they try to bring a local feel to their stores and they are genuinely pleasurable places to be. They deserve their place in the high street.
However, we need independent bookshops and if we don’t use them we’ll lose them. It’s thought there are now fewer than 1,000 independent bookshops left in Britain, a one-third drop in 10 years. If they were a bird species they’d get funding for special protection!
Why should you use them?
- Without them, a few large companies will dominate, and they will determine WHAT gets published and what YOU and I read. Yes, self-publishing has taken off (via Amazon), but the routes to market for writers will be severely curtailed if just a handful of companies dictate.
- Just look at the range of available titles in that large aisle in the supermarket? Enough said.
- Indie bookshops do more than sell books; they will advise, recommend, search for and order books for you. They often also do author talks, run book clubs and provide lovely spaces for you to explore and dip into books.
- Bookshop owners are just small businesses trying to make a living and it’s not easy. Many have had to diversify; we often expect a posh coffee in our bookshops these days so they have had to skill-up and invest in equipment.
So, I encourage you to make a little time this weekend and pop along to your local indie bookshop, take your kids, spend some time and make a purchase.
My locals are:
Urmston Bookshop – 72 Flixton Road, Urmston, Manchester M41 5AB
Chorlton Bookshop – 506 Wilbraham Road, Chorlton, Manchester M21 9AW
I also love Magma in the Northern Quarter (22 Oldham Street, Manchester M1 1JN) for arty, design and illustrated books. A favourite at Christmas for fantastic gifts.