Thursday, 17 March 2011

The breaking of chains

I'm not sure whether the American and British bookstore-chains that have recently closed or slimmed down have so much been defeated by external market forces or whether they've opted to shut up shop simply because their profit margins are not growing as rapidly as they'd have liked.  I've heard arguments that suggest either of these reasons might be the case for the sudden demise/reduction of some of the Big Name high street outlets.

In Australia during recent weeks, both Angus & Robertson and Borders have joined this international trend, but I can't help wondering if it's all that bad and whether in the long term it might not even be good news.  (At this point, I should  say that I'm considering this solely from a book-selling point of view and completely aside from the stress these closures cause if you happen to be an employee of such a company.) 

It seems to me that it wasn't long ago that we were lamenting the rise of the bookstore-chains and the manner in which they were squeezing out a number of independent booksellers.  At the time, I believe it was argued that the likes of Borders and Waterstones had arrived at too great a cost to the livelihoods and existence of traditional, family-owned bookshops.  As the independents were forced into liquidation, so too disappeared a level of personal service and knowledge that couldn't always be found in the multinationals, along with an equally-defining attitude that books were somehow more than just a commodity to be dumped in the three-for-two box.

Ever the optimist, I'm hoping that with the demise of the big chains might come the resurrection of the small independent book shop.  There's certainly an opening for them, regardless of the rise of the online store: small shops where the customer can browse and touch books, discussing a title or two with the owner/assistant, and perhaps buy a decent greeting card or two at the same time.  There'd be no reason why authors couldn't launch, sign and promote their books here anymore than in Borders or Waterstones, I guess, and the special promotions would be at the discretion of the local owner rather than the marketing department in a distant city.  Ah utopia!  Am I dreaming?


Mike French said...

I hope you're right - went into my local WH Smiths on World Book Night - the only shop in my town that sells books now - well apart from supermarkets - and they do have a whole ground floor dedicated to books so maybe there's hope - but they'd never heard of world book night!

takes a lot of guts these days though to risk opening a small indie shop - really admire the people that try.

Paul said...

W.H.Smiths (who've never seemed much of a book shop to me) must be rubbing their hands in absolute glee.

Gary said...

Somebody somewhere will realise that buying a book to some people is an experience. Taking your time, old books and new titles and the time to browse. Waterstones in the old days.

I think an extent ion to an old library selling books at the rrp with a coffee somewhere near and knowledgeable staff will rise to the top.

We can't be the only book lovers left surely!

Paul said...

This may be the beginning of a movement, Gary. I doubt we're the only ones left.

Like the idea of keeping coffee in the mix.

Joe Logan said...

You're not dreaming Paul, the little bookshop is proving your point very well! An independent bookstore that's garnering great support from the local bookworms.
And I might add, there are always nice cards to be found there too ;)

Paul said...

Good call, Joe. And I think I should give it a shout in a forthcoming post.