As we look back on the recently finished independent booksellers week and all the press that it gathered, we have to look at ourselves as an online book and textbook retail and ask ourselves are we damaging local bookshops. Personally I have some very mixed feelings about this. I used to be an owner of a small bookshop that dealt mostly in second hand books, and I was, as most people are very proud of my little store. But over the last 10 years with the meteoric rise of the Internet, I found it harder and harder to keep my little shop afloat in a world that seems more than eager to move online and away from the local bookstore.
As much as I want to, I don’t blame people for not shopping locally, as even I have moved on to this wonderful World Wide Web where I can get all my literary needs for about half the price of what I would pay at a local bookstore. Even the major retailers are moving the majority of their business online, as the simple cost of maintaining a brick and mortar store becomes harder and harder to keep up with. When my store was on the verge of shutting down I raved and ranted at the major retailers, at Amazon and just that anyone who would stand still for long enough, I was angry but I didn’t know who to be angry at.
It seems perverse from me, someone who works for a website that sells books solely over the Internet, to try and tell people that they should be supporting their local bookstore’s, undo. Scratch that, it is perverse and entirely hypocritical, but I’m going to do it anyway and here’s why. People have been decrying that the end of books is nigh on the age of the digital media is already here, but let’s be honest who doesn’t prefer the feel of a good honest book in their hands over holding a tablet or ereader. My eyes still gets sore after only an hour or two squinting at my iPad or Kindle. There is no real substitute physical book.
So while books are here to stay to just a little bit longer, so too should your local bookstore. But bookstores in your local area need to realise that they simply can’t compete with the prices of books online and need to act accordingly. Local bookstore’s need to play to their strengths, let people come in sit down somewhere and read a chapter or two, offered them a free drink of tea or coffee and employ reasonable intelligence staff that no when people want help and when people just want to be left alone.
One of the best ideas that I’ve ever seen is from the one remaining second hand bookstore in my area. They offer a box of free lollipops that sit next to a box of free children’s books, and while the books are necessarily in the best condition, the kids don’t care they have a lolly and something to read.
There is no online substitute for a real honest to goodness community fall of knowledgeable welcoming people.