Buy Buy or Bye Bye To The Bookshop…

I haven’t written this week, nor really read very much, because I have been mulling things over. I was going to write a huge angry rant on Monday but then I thought the better of it, people like the look of anger as much as they do the look of drunk – not very much, unless everyone is angry or drunk with you then it seems you can get away with it. You see this weekend I seriously felt like the book world had gone bonkers and imploded on itself. Bloggers vs bloggers (which is so sad I don’t want to do any more than acknowledge how sad it is) but mainly bookshop vs bloggers. Well, one bookshop against two bloggers.

On Sunday night, and again in the hours of Monday morning, a bookshop (which will remain nameless, as despite what they and some bloggers might think I don’t want to close them down earlier) for some reason really took against the lovely Gav of Gav Reads for tweeting a link to a books Amazon page. This was, apparently, not only a decided attempt to shut down that bookshop (and every other in the world) but was also declaring a war with Independent Bookshops throughout the land – I know, bonkers. Having met the shop owner myself and thinking they seemed a nice decent person I stepped in with an aim to calm it down and also defend Gavin who I think is a ‘book pusher’/book promoter extraordinaire.  It was at this point that I received a tongue lashing of my own about how I promote AmaCON and I am also killing the bookshop – from bonkers to (excuse my French now) utter fucking madness.

Now to defend the bookseller before I defend myself (as I can’t speak for Gavin, though I have spoken to him about the craziness) their bookshop is closing down and they feel it is because of “AmaCon”, as they put it and supermarket bought books. It must be beyond horrendous if your livelihood and passion is thwarted like that, and I don’t think (well I hope not) the bookseller talks to their customers like they did us as I have been at events with them and their passion was boundless, so it must be crushing for them. Attacking book lovers is not the answer but it did raise some points I thought we could discuss.

I myself find it very hard to believe that anyone who had read this blog, followed my tweets, listened to podcasts or even scarier still having actually met me in person would think that I wished death on the independent bookshop, it is ridiculous. I BLOODY WELL LOVE THE BOOKS OFF A BOOKSHOP! If I walk past a bookshop I fall into it! I have promoted bookshops on this blog (some Dutch ones coming soon) since the early days. I have been mulling a Good Bookshop Guide for quite some time. I even want to have my own for goodness sake! I mean really.

That said (and a blogger did state they didn’t see me ‘buy brand new books’ very often which is fair enough and I take on board)  I have been known to shop for books in charity shops, in supermarkets and on that dreaded certain website. Given the choice, it would always be a bookshop but sometimes it simply can’t be the case. Here are the reasons why, being completely honest, I don’t always buy books from a bookshop as much as I would like.

  1. I am really lucky in that through writing this blog for six years (for free, for the love) and working on a books page for a magazine/doing book reviews here and there (because I need to eat/have a roof over my head) and bookish podcasts (for free, for the love) I get quite a lot of free books because I then push them onto all of you/readers/listeners who might buy copies or indeed I go off and buy copies for my friends and family if I love it.
  2. I love my local library and so should we all, so I use that a lot.
  3. My local Indie bookshop is quite a way away, we have a Waterstones nearby but I am talking Indie-Indie, if I am ever going past it in I pop and invariably walk away with something if not several things.
  4. Sometimes I want to support my very local second hand bookshop thank you very much, and I am unashamed about that, we need new and old – where else would I get out of print books?
  5. Sometimes I want a book that isn’t out in the UK as yet.
  6. If it is a book for book group or one I am not sure about I tend to use my library – invariably I buy the physical new book after.
  7. Sometimes I buy books on a whim, be this in a charity shop or the supermarket – I love books I can’t help it. It is an addiction.
  8. If I am on a deadline for a personal reading challenge/book group/wanting to read all the Not The Booker Prize shortlist and I either a) can’t get it at the library b) don’t know if I will like the book c) can’t get to a bookshop in time c) the bookshop I do manage to get to doesn’t have it or won’t for a while, then yes I admit I might buy the e-book version instead. This is really, really rare as a) I don’t really like reading on my Kindle – more on that soon and b) I have issues with e-readers which are well documented.
  9. I can’t always afford new books; do you know how much a middling freelancer earns? Do you know I have been paid wrong/not at all for several freelance jobs recently? No course not, we don’t know each other’s financial situations and shouldn’t judge them because it is no one else’s sodding business.
  10. Buying myself/other people a new book is a real treat for me and has been since I was a child. I wish I could do it everyday but I can’t.
  11. Sometimes people by me vouchers for certain websites.
  12. Finally, and this one might make me really unpopular, it’s the elephant in the fiction section… a few Indie bookshops are really crap (the tweeting bookshop isn’t crap, I have been, I wouldn’t say it was the best I have ever been to if I am being 100% honest which I feel this post needs, but it’s not the worst though it’s location could be an issue). I feel like I have just said ‘bloody Mary’ too many times and now some bookish demons might come and get me. It is true though, like any indie shops, there are some good ones and there are some piss poor ones. I am not going to shop at the latter.

The penultimate thing I want to say though is that I have never told anyone – in the flesh, on this blog, on podcasts, via work, anywhere – that they should buy a book from anywhere. I leave it up to you to make that decision because it is your choice. I don’t link to a local bookshop/Waterstones/Amazon/Library catalogue. I hope the subtext is always there in this blog overall that hints at my library leanings and bookshop (new and old) tendencies. At the end of the day we all know if we don’t buy from bookshops then it is goodbye to them, simple as that.

The very final thing I want to say is what I said when I ended my Sunday evening of tweeting, only I am making it a bit longer… Bookshops around the world, you have one thing over a certain website that it can never have. You have faces; personalities and voices… use them wisely and make yourself individual.

People will come. I know when I find bookshops like that it is very difficult to get me out of them again, as I am sure it is for all of you reading this. What are your thoughts on the plight of the bookshop?

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36 Comments

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36 responses to “Buy Buy or Bye Bye To The Bookshop…

  1. Very, very well said. All of it.

  2. Kateg

    I wish I had a great indie nearby, but I have to go out of my way to get to one, so I order a lot or go to Barnes and Noble. I am somewhat addicted to the discounts, but I do shop at Indies and buy something when I come across them. The one that is closest is tiny and tired so I rarely go there. I use my library as well as the house is overflowing with books and I don’t always want to buy my book group selections. I like choice and wish I had more options for purchasing. Excellent post.

  3. Very well said Simon! I totally agree with everything you’ve mentioned above, as I too buy my books at a variety of locations, both online and at bookshops, both used and new. I don’t think bookshops will ever go the way of the record store, but I do think that for better or worse a lot of them will and have closed. That’s sad, but it’s also business and really has no reflection on the fact that the world is full of lovers of books and always will be.

  4. What an excellent post Simon. I unfortunately only have a Waterstones near me plus umpteen charity shops. If I want a really indie bookshop I have to go to Norwich which is nearly an hour away and costs me lots of money and then I have to buy at full price – which I do, because the shop in question, The Book Hive, is wonderful, well stocked, has all the small presses I love and is totally individual. But I simply *can’t* afford to go there every time I want a book and if it isn’t in Waterstones or is out of print (a lot of the stuff I read is old or obscure) I have no option but online. I try not to buy from the big guys (and I don’t think I ever buy from the supermarket) but we as readers can only do so much. I think it’s very unfair to have a go at you and Gav – some bloggers do point in the direction of certain sellers, but that’s their perogative and you don’t so it’s a bit unfair. I was very anti shopping online until the day some years ago when I went into Waterstones to try and order a book and they said they couldn’t because it was an American one – what can you do?

  5. I think what happened to Gav was grossly unfair – and I can understand you both being angry/upset about it. I have decided very recently to give up buying from a certain large river on the internet – except for occaisonal ebooks – which I rarely buy these days anyway. That is my choice. However when it comes to Indie bookshops you are right – some really are better than others, some are in awkward places – and lets be honest there are very very few out there anyway. I live in Birmingham it’s a large city with just over 1 million people. In the city centre we just have a large Waterstones, a WH Smith and a Works being refurbished after a fire (so closed at the moment) and a Christian bookshop – although a rumour has reached me recently of someone trying to set up an Indie bookshop on the edge of the City centre. Bookshops will always attract book lovers wherever they are – but their prices can be unattractive, -but I do think that A****n must have had a huge and detrimental effect – for a start they have changed the way a lot of us book lovers buy books now. On a whim, click click and we have bought another one or two – I know I have being doing it for years. No more though, I would rather pay higher prices – and buy fewer books as I explained in a recent post on my blog.

  6. Jane

    As an ex-bookseller (shop closed down) I must admit that reviews with links to that site would make me sigh. That’s all. Keep reading, keep spreading the love of reading.

  7. David

    Alas, my last local independent closed down in 1997 (I know this because of the book I bought in their closing down sale which I finally got around to reading this year – I know: quite a while on the old tbr!) and I don’t often get into Manchester (which of course is pretty much limited to Waterstone’s, of which I’m not the hugest fan), so it’s Amazon and Book Depository in the main for me, though I do try and buy through Amazon Marketplace sellers (usually for older books rather than the brand new stuff), many of whom are independent bookshops. And of course if I am away somewhere that still does have real bookshops I am through the door like a shot.

    Oh and, yes I do know what middling freelancers earn (being one myself). Still waiting on payment for one job invoiced last October(!) but that’s by-the-by, except suffice it to say I know exactly what you’re saying.

  8. Ash

    A great post, Simon. I completely agree with you.

    One thing I would add: non-fiction. There are very few bookshops which cater adequately to my reading needs when it comes to subject-specific/ technical reading (in my case that is theology/ religious studies). Indie bookshops tend to be a bit better at this, especially ones that also sell second hand books, as obviously a lot of old/ antiquarian books happen to be about theology/ christianity/ copies of the Bible/ Book of Common Prayer. But if I want to read something academic, published after 1950, the chances are I’m going to have to visit a theological bookshop (there used to be one in London. Now it is in Hay-on-Wye) or order through a shop or use an online seller.

    I imagine most of this is true for anyone looking for non-fiction or very specific books, unless you live near a bookshop whose owners/ staff share your interests.

  9. Excellent post, Simon. By book blogger standards, I don’t buy a huge number of books (part of that has to do with living in Canada, where books are more expensive than in the US or UK) and do rely on the library for most of my reading material. However, when I do buy something 90% of the time it is second-hand, coming either from a used bookstore or via AbeBooks. If I’m buying something new, I like to give my local bookstore the first chance to sell it to me (and, bless them, they import a lot of UK titles months in advance of the North American releases so that is a great help). If they don’t have it in stock, I go online to look for it. I will also go through the big giants whenever it makes financial sense if I’m buying books from specific publishers. As much as I love Persephone, I do not love their overseas shipping charges when you buy direct from them.

  10. Ann Fuller

    Simon– Amen – I think you covered everything that a real book lover feels -good job!

  11. David Nolan (David73277)

    Hear, hear. I saw the Twitter exchange with Gav and it made me feel very miserable. It was one of those occasions when I considered walking away from Twitter altogether. It certainly did not endear me to the ex-bookseller in question, though good for you for being able step-back and acknowledge his pain. I’m not a fan of the Big River, but I would never attack anyone for shopping there. Similarly, I really don’t think that booksellers (or authors for that matter) who attack libraries and/or charity shops do themselves any favours. “People like the look of anger as much as they do the look of drunk.” Indeed.

    The world is changing. Many of us face an uncertain professional future, in whatever field we work. There are many ways we can respond to this, but being aggressive on social media is probably not a good one, particularly for a business: potential customers will be reading and they are unlikely to be impressed.

  12. Great post – I was particularly interested in the initial spark for the falling out with the bookseller as we had a similar debate (though less heated!) at our last book group meeting.

    Each month we vote for a shortlist and our organiser adds the Amazon link next to each book on the list, so that we can read reviews etc before voting on the night.

    Some in the group felt that this overly promoted Amazon, but we couldn’t come up with an alternative option – particularly now Goodreads is owned by Amazon.

    The pluses for Amazon were, the ability to buy second hand at often very low prices, the ability to buy e-books for kindle fans and access to both publishers blurb and readers reviews.

    When 40+ members of a book group all want to buy a copy straight after a meeting, libraries and charity shops are not really an option – though the two local independents in Brighton did have a strong following…

  13. Kat

    Sounds absolutely crazy! I don’t follow links to bookstores, but certainly many bloggers do, and I have never seen anyone link to a local indie. I can’t imagine a bookstore attacking a blog.

    Actually, it’s good to see a little anger online. I’m not a Twitter follower, but sometimes blogs get a little saccharine. Twitter apparently does get furious, but I’m not really familiar with it.

  14. I think it’s awful that people took out their frustration on you and Gav who actually promote books… *sigh*
    I am lucky that in Norwich we have a really good independent bookshop, The Book Hive. But I buy most of my books secondhand or get them from the library as I have little money to spend on “fun” things and just can’t afford to buy everything I want to read from a new shop. I do buy from them when I can though, especially if I want a treat as looking around the shop is a treat in itself!

  15. Hear, hear! I love shopping at my friend’s independent bookstore when I have money to spend on new books (which is never as often as I’d like), but most of the books I own were used before I bought them, and lately I’ve been “vetting” books by checking them out of the library.

  16. Great post Simon – Booklovers unite! As it happens, this afternoon I started drafting a post on the same subject setting out my own stall so to speak – that’ll come in a day or two. I’ll just say I’m lucky to have some fabulous indie bookshops where I live, and I spend more than I can afford in them – other book purchases come from all the cheaper sources.

  17. Very well said. I have a good local independent bookshop and I buy there when I can, but my appetite for books outstrips my budget and the library and my local second-hand book dealer need to be supported too.

  18. Another thing indie bookshops need to do is to have other activities besides just selling books. Our local indie in Hobart has the Fuller’s (name of shop) Ferrets events for littlies, the Kniterature for people to gather and chat while they knit, author visits, locals who have written stories about the area to speak, a coffee shop. Bookshops if they are to stay in business need to think outside of just the same old same old. Some shop owners who haven’t done this go bust. That is the way of the world now and like it or not it’s either adapt (swim) or sink.

  19. You do a wonderful service promoting books and it is up to the reader where they source them out.

  20. I buy books from charity shops, Amazon (for Kindle), second-hand bookshops, Waterstones and independent bookshops. I also borrow books from relatives, use libraries and occasionally receive books from publishers. All of them have their pros and cons but most importantly, all of them have supplied me with great books which have given me a lot of pleasure.

  21. Spot on. Why does it have to be either/or? Just as with blogs, or indeed pretty much anything else, there’s a market out there – the offer simply needs to be good enough for people to choose it.

  22. i buy most (about 2/3) of my books second-hand from charity shops; however, i do buy the remaining 1/3 from A****n – mostly for my kindle (which, unlike Simon, i LOVE, esp. because i can bump up the font – but to each his/her own). and i am not ashamed. i will repeat – i love my kindle and i enjoy buying books for it on THAT site. i travel a lot for work and having a kindle has changed my life, making reading while on the go much more possible/enjoyable for me. i understand all the reasons for buying from independent book shops, and i do that as much as possible. but i’m going to continue purchasing from “the website” because they offer a good product for a good price and i like the reviews. in this day and age we are made to feel ashamed of purchasing from that company and i simply refuse to do so.
    pam

  23. Well said, Simon.

    Sure, buying online isn’t the ideal choice, but it can on occasion be the only – I know if I had more money I would definitely buy in bookshops over buying online. The decline of the bookshop is a devastating thing, and I don’t like seeing any business go under, but this seems to be the culture of a recession, the smallest go first. Very sad, but it does not mean you (or any prominent blogger) are then responsible for ensuring your readers visit them.

  24. Pingback: Weekend Bits and Bobs | Annabel's House of Books

  25. LauraC

    I use my library almost exclusively, both to borrow and to purchase used books ($1 for hardbacks, $.50 for paperbacks). I also purchase used books through Amazon and the occasional new one. The used books that I buy through Amazon are cheap and easily gotten (I don’t drive and America’s public transportation in the suburbs is just about non-existent, and I am on a very limited budget.) On top of everything else, my oldest son works for Amazon (computer programmer) so I feel that I am helping support his job. ;) A used bookstore within walking distance from me would get my support, but there just isn’t one.

  26. Simon, the man’s rant is either the work of a person at the end of their tether and in need of medical help, or of someone deeply unpleasant. You have discounted the latter, but I have to say the increasingly unhinged tenor of his tweets has led me to conclude that if I was in that neck of the woods his shop is (sadly) the last place I would want to go. I think we all owe you a debt for publicly saying that not all independent bookshops are great – many are, but some are unimaginative and uninviting.

    The nature of my blog means that I’m prohibited from buying books this year (apart from those selected by my reading group, or guidebooks or history books needed as background for writing assignments that come my way), but I think that your analysis of the situation is spot on. I worked at Consumers’ Association at the time abolition of the Net Book Agreement was being debated and argued against supporting the policy, but we now are where we are.

    I do link to Amazon, not in respect of the book currently being reviewed, but in relation to those I reference in the course of the review; if readers want to know more about the books that are name checked they can form a fuller picture by checking out the blurbs and readers’ comments, so minimising (somewhat!) the extent to which I allow myself to get sidetracked.

    I’ve just checked the provenance of the 32 books I’ve reviewed so far this year: 9 came from Amazon; 5 from supermarkets; 6 were gifts to me; 2 from The Works;
    There was also one each from
    – Waterstone’s
    – a long-gone local remainder shop
    – the much-missed Ottakar’s (now my local Waterstone’s)
    -a book-signing at the splendid Daunt’s
    -a library discard
    -a second-hand sale at an OU summer school.

    Two came from centres associated with the author, one was part of the deal on a literary walking tour, and one (I blush) was borrowed from a schoolmate 35 years ago and not returned – it will almost certainly have come from our then-local independent bookstore.

    I find the most surprising revelation from that list is that only one came from Waterstone’s – I would have been much more likely to buy on the High Street had Ottakar’s still been around.

    I’m not proud of the supermarket purchases – but in a recession, after two redundancies in four years and with half my time now allotted to freelance work I really can’t afford to turn my nose up at two books for £7 on the fairly rare occasions when something I want to read makes the top 100 books (so literary books by the biggest names, plus crime fiction). We have a decent second-hand shop in my nearest town, but it carries little new stock. The nearest independent bookshop – the excellent Jaffe & Neale in Chipping Norton – is 13 miles away, and I’ve been a couple of times to torture myself during my self-denying ordinance, because it also has great cake!

    We’ve had a new remainder shop (so competition for The Works!) open in the town in the last couple of months, and it has some terrific stock – I am beside myself every time I see Winifred Holtby’s The Land of Green Ginger for £1, and I noticed the other day that it had half a dozen books I would normally have bought (heck, for £1 I would even have bought Margaret Thatcher: The Downing Street Years).

    As you know, I went off-kilter on my first #GreeneforGran selection, and that out-of-print gift was bought for me from a US Amazon marketplace seller. I really don’t think that makes either me or the generous person who bought it for me latter-day Visigoths. From next month on (as we wave goodbye to a member who’s off to live in York), I will be the only person in my reading group who still earns a living, and even in my well-heeled village those older ladies usually buy their books second-hand from Amazon marketplace sellers or get them from the library. People are really tightening their belts.

    I don’t have a Kindle, as I think e-readers are hideous, and come 1st January (when my year of reading from home is over) I’m sure I will be back to buying from Amazon, from Waterstone’s, from remainder and second-hand shops, and – occasionally – from supermarkets. I will try to go to Jaffe & Neale and to the mainly second-hand shop in my nearest town. And I’m seriously thinking of going to Hay for January 1-3 for some serious retail therapy, as I’ve had to forego my usual summer visit!

  27. Blame it on climate change, apparently a slight increase in temperature has the effect of escalating anger and conflict, both on an individual scale and also global conflict. Food for thought. I am sure it will cool down soon and everyone will get back to reading and sharing and change will continue to occur in the world as we knew it.

    You do a great both both of you, no need to justify it, just keep reading and sharing. Bonne Continuation.

  28. It’s hard for anyone who has devoted much of their life to building a business, to see it going under. So I have a lot of sympathy for bookshop owners in the same predicament as the guy you mention even though I don’t understand how venting his anger via Twitter helps that much.
    Like others here I buy my books from a variety of sources, but increasingly they are coming from charity shops and places like AbeBooks or the Book Depository. I would buy more from bricks and mortar stores if they had a wider range of titles in translation but they just seem to all promote the same best sellers… forcing me to find alternatives.

  29. Antonomasia

    Foyles online ordering is a good British-based alternative to Amazon, with very similar prices for most fiction and popular non-fiction. They have e-pub ebooks and even a Marketplace for second-hand books. Delivery is free for orders over £10 though the non-express is sometimes a little slower than Amazon. Perhaps more people aren’t using them yet because the physical shops are only in London and Bristol, but they deliver UK wide. They don’t have all the imported titles and obscure editions that Amazon do, and they are more expensive for academic texts, but for most readers most of the time, they would be absolutely fine. (No connection or vested interest in Foyles BTW – I just think they are good and hope more people use them so they keep going. Though I do know someone who had a terrible time working for Amazon.)

    It’s also possible to order online from independents via this site: http://localbookshops.tbphost.co.uk which links directly to the shops rather than giving them a miserable 5% or so as the much-vauted Hive does. Tends to be more expensive but this will matter more to some than others.

  30. Louise Trolle

    I’m a trained bookseller, and have worked in the business for many years, until I left it 3 years ago (wages and hours). Many many Danish bookstores have closed, and that’s sad, but the market and the way people read are changing, and it’s not Amazon’s or anyone else’s “fault” – it’s progress and new technologies. Hopefully there’ll be room for bookshops in the future! But there won’t be as many….

    I get my books in Danish from my local bookseller, the library and 2nd hand stores. I have a KOBO for the e-books I can’t get otherwise, they support authors and publishers more than Kindle (and they have good customer’s service!), BUT I also buy lot’s of 2nd hand and new books through Amazon/sellers on that site. Why? Well 95% of the English/American/Australian/Canadian books I read aren’t available in stores in Denmark. So I have to buy them online, and if I don’t want to pay 2-3 times the book’s price in extra customs fees and postage, I have to get them through the .co.uk site. And they always offer free shipping and full refunds if the books are lost in the mail. They may dump prices and have unpleasant marketing tactics – but they have excellent customer’s service.
    And being unique/special, good to your customer’s and visible is what will keep the best bookshops alive (I Hope!)

  31. I’m really sorry you got an ear full. Most booksellers have more sense! I have commented on what you say from a bookseller’s point of view on my blog as another important book business is closing this week. http://juxtabook.typepad.com/books/2013/08/end-of-an-era.html

    We need a calm debate. Most booksellers are buyers too, which is something we all need to remember. It isn’t anyone’s fault but we do need to be aware we could wake up to bookselling desert and wonder how we got there!

  32. Well said. That Twitter exchange really made me angry, as do the judgemental people who comment when they see I’ve bought a book from Amazon. I don’t do it often but like you I don’t earn very much and don’t have a decent-sized indie particularly close to home (there’s two very small indies in Bristol, ridiculous for such a big city). I do try to buy online from Foyles or Waterstones if I’m going to buy that way, but sometimes it’s hard to resist the ridiculous Amazon discounts.

    And another thing: isn’t it wonderful that books are still an important enough commodity that they are the backbone of one of the biggest and most powerful websites in the world? Amazon makes it possible for pretty much anyone anywhere to buy any book. That is a truly wonderful thing. And like every other high street business, it’s tough to compete with. Bookshops are not alone in this struggle.

  33. Pingback: Books Are My Bag | Savidge Reads

  34. If you can’t find what you’re looking for secondhand then it’s worth checking if your local independent bookseller offers online shopping. Quite a lot do – my favourites that offer UK wide online shopping include Golden Hare Books , Nextonly.uk(who have great kids books and specialist art books), and Word Power . All come very highly recommended from me.

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