Why am I buying books???

Posted by Guy Pringle, 27th January 2011

In reading group 1 the other day - or was it 2? – we got onto the ‘why buy books from bookshops when there’s Amazon, charity shops, friends to borrow from’ debate. And I surprised some of the others by railing slightly at all three.


I’ve left libraries off that list because, as anyone who knows me knows, I am passionate about the value of libraries and am massively concerned for their future.

But currently, bookshops are possibly under greater threat – and could disappear more quickly - than libraries will (if the forces of evil have their way on budget cuts).


How so? Well, I’m talking about the last major chain in the UK, the public at large’s concept of a bookshop – Waterstone’s. (If you are fortunate enough to have a thriving ‘independent’ bookshop near you then I urge you to support them even more. We have started a list of our favourites here on the website. Do let us know of your favourites and we will add them to the list.)


Anyway, the chequered history of Waterstone’s is a labyrinth that you can track back on Wikipedia – suffice to say that Tim Waterstone has tried to save his eponymous chain at least once and is even now being asked whether he’ll throw his cap in the ring should it become available once more. Which it might well do as a result of the dilemma its latest owners, the HMV group, are trying to resolve. And this in itself is a harbinger of what might happen with books and bookshops.


HMV’s ‘record’ shops have had an especially tough Christmas, partly because of the untimely bad weather in December, but also because we are buying fewer CDs and DVDs on the high street. Downloading – legally or illegally – has meant volume sales through the high street have dropped such that HMV group is in danger of breaching its terms with its landlords.


A swingeing plan to divest the chain of underperforming shops – both HMV and Waterstone’s – hasn’t been sufficient to stop the vultures circling. At which point I ask you to think back just over a year: if there was a Borders – or Books etc – near you, you may recall just how quickly they went from apparently thriving places to closing their doors at the end of November 2009.


One of HMV’s options is to sell off Waterstone’s which seems to be surviving better than the rest of the chain. Funds raised by so doing would allow HMV to concentrate on repairing its core business and hopefully allow Waterstone’s to remain on the high street as a going concern.


Which brings me back, hopefully, to my point. If Waterstone’s were to go under then where would you go to see what had been published recently? And I don’t mean a computer screen, but a place to physically pick up a book because you . . . like the shade of green on the cover or whatever trigger pulls in your brain to select your reading.


All of which is to explain why yesterday I found myself in one of Winchester’s two branches of Waterstone’s (one will surely close) handing over my credit card to buy Andrea Levy’s Long Song, Catherine O’Flynn’s latest, The News Where You Are and The Hare with the Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal. Yes, it was a 3 for 2 – an offer which independents can’t afford – but I don’t even need to buy books. If a review copy hasn’t come through here then I know someone in the publisher to blag a free copy.


I realise I’m on the verge of being sanctimonious but seriously, if we really want the chance to walk in to a bookshop and browse – something I suspect every single one of our readers enjoys – then we need to buy as well. Because without our money bookshops will disappear and before long electronic versions will start to sell more than ‘real’ books.


And wherever you may stand in that debate I have yet to meet someone who doesn’t thrill to the feel and smell of a new book that you can flick the pages of as you sample its delights.


Marjorie said...

"Because without our money bookshops will disappear and before long electronic versions will start to sell more than ‘real’ books. "

Guy, I believe I read somewhere that for the first year, Amazon sold more e-books than printed ones. Like most people, I think that books, in whatever format, should be available from many sources. Unfortunately, businesses talk footfall, supply and demand, shelf-space, profit margins etc. We have also to think that people in these current economic times have constraints on their spending power and a novel may have to give way to ready-made-meals.

We have lost our independent bookshop - new owner prefers music. WH Smith is a churner of the top ten reads. I too am worried for libraries and the Arts in general (that budget is so easy to cut by local and national government). We live in the times of the philistine. But, I do defend anyone's right to buy books from a charity shop or to get and give them to friends, perhaps because I do exactly that and I confess to buying books on-line, even from Tindal Street Press. I still, however, have not succumbed to the e-reader, although having seen one a friend bought at Christmas, acknowledge they are dinky and the on-screen print is easy to read. However, just think of the disaster if you were reading a duff book on Kindle and threw it against the wall in disgust!
A book is a much better projectile, especially if it has lots of pages. A book for me every time from wherever it comes.

Posted on Mon 31 Jan 2011 @ 09:20

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