Both reading groups are fed up with me going on about supporting our local Waterstone’s by buying from them at least some of the books we read. I’ve declared previously that I’ve acquired a Kindle so obviously I’m not following my own advice entirely. However, I’d like to think I’m not a complete hypocrite - I do go in and buy books that I could probably blag off the publisher, given the job I do.
But today, according to the New York Times, it’s official. Not part of my usual reading it has to be said, but in the daily book trade email I receive is mention of ‘showrooming’.
American booksellers – not quantified but enough to be more than anecdotal – have spotted furtive activity among the bookshelves. Nothing too lurid, you understand, just people who’ve been happily browsing suddenly tapping away into their mobile phone. The inescapable conclusion is that, having been able to handle the goods and decide they really want to read it, the bookshop has served its purpose and they’re now placing their order on line.
Obviously, in the current climate we’re all careful in our spending but if you stand in front of one set of bookshelves in your local bookshop, count the number of paperbacks thereon and multiply by £4 that’s probably very close to how much money is locked up in that metre wide bay. Now scan the shop and count up the number of bays – the maths is inescapable.
And if they don’t sell enough of those books in the next 3 weeks then 2012 is going to be even tougher. By next Christmas there might not be a showroom to visit.
Elsewhere in the same e-newsletter is mention of an interview in The Independent with James Daunt. As the comparatively new MD of Waterstone’s and the previous begetter of six eponymous London bookshops, he outlines his philosophy of bookselling, not hiding from the challenge he faces.
Among much common sense, The Independent records, ‘Daunt makes no bones about his dislike of Amazon. "They never struck me as being a sort of business in the consumer's interest. They're a ruthless, money-making devil." He dreads the physical bookshop disappearing altogether in the digital tsunami.’ Quite.
As a counter to all this gloom, can I commend to you One Tree Books in Petersfield, Hampshire. Owned and run by Tim O’Kelly with several friendly and helpful staff this is the bookshop you’d like in your town, complete with coffee shop where author events are regularly staged. Although lacking the premium High Street location – a former Ottakar’s now Waterstone’s has that advantage – it is obviously much frequented and loved by the locals.
Surviving is a struggle – buying the lease of the building 10 years or so ago has been his master stroke – but I’d put money on him still being there at Christmas 2012. My only guilt from a recent visit was that I didn’t buy a book from them while I was there. Doh!