I miss the independent bookshops in my town. We had two good ones but they folded and went under a number of years ago now; maybe a decade or even more. I miss the smell of paper and printing ink from the collective mass of newly unpacked titles that met you at the threshold. I enjoyed wasting a lot of time in these independents even if I was just browsing and mentally adding new authors and titles to my list of must-reads.
More often or not this is done online now. It’s still exciting, electronically thumbing a genre and coming across new releases and names, but for me it somehow lacks that extra dimension you only get from a good ole-fashioned bookshop. The physical object weighing in your hand; the feel of the rough pages; the embossing on the cover… I’m waxing lyrical a little here but my point is, the experience is changed and, sadly in my view, become slightly more removed.
However, change is inevitable, I know, and there are many plus sides one must acknowledge to these new directions. For one, and it is a huge plus, the industry has opened up a number of self-publication options without which a vast amount of talent and creativity would otherwise remain buried or barred from entering by the gatekeepers of the traditional publishing world. It’s also more accessible to a greater number of readers, who can, for example, now choose from a plethora of free e-book titles. Again, this is only made possible by the publishing opportunities established by companies such as Amazon and Smashwords. In short, more writers can get their work out there; readers have much more choice.
Nevertheless, it is true that the traditional bookshop is struggling. And whilst there are still some independents that continue to thrive, over half them closed their doors for the last time between 2005-2015. The UK now has less than a thousand still in business across the nation today. As a book lover then, I find myself in a conundrum: the thriving and diversifying online book business has opened up opportunities for everyone and yet perhaps there is a direct correlation to the dwindling presence of physical stores. Even Borders couldn’t keep afloat. And whilst it’s great that Waterstones continues to thrive (I suppose it is to the UK what Barnes and Nobles is to the USA) there is something undeniably sad that bookshop diversity is collapsing ever-inwards.
Perhaps I need to face up to it: it’s like anything else on the once eclectic high street – gone are the family butchers, fishmongers, bakers, (candlestick makers?) etc – you’re hard pressed these days to walk down a high street and differentiate it from any other. Is this the cost we are to pay for cheaper prices and the wider opportunities that affords? I don’t know what the answer is or how a better balance is achieved. I do know I love traditional bookshops though. Conversely, I also know that I for one will be forever indebted to the online companies that make self-publication and all that it entails a valid and accessible option. To see one’s novel in print. It’s every writer’s dream isn’t it? Joe Public walks into a bookshop, takes your precious title of the shelf and buys himself a copy. If he can find a bookshop in the first place, that is…
If you know of a good bookshop local to you, I’d love you to leave comment here, wherever in the world you may be. Provide a link too if you have one. Every little helps!