Bookshops: The Taboo Subject

Reading & Writing

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When it comes to making criticisms about bookshops, authors must tread very carefully. If they speak out, there’s a good chance that someone will be stung into making the most obvious threat; ‘Well, we won’t stock your books, then.’ We all love bookshops, so it seems churlish to complain as we might in any other store with moody staff.
Taboos are born from fear, so let’s clear the air a little here.
It’s rarely the staff that’s the problem in shops so much as the stocking policy. For years, many Borders branches put my books in wrong sections because the computer listing was wrong, and supposedly couldn’t be corrected. Luckily, diligent staff members often work against the system to correct mistakes. Categorisation errors must cost bookshops dearly; it’s a shame that the best Borders, in London’s Oxford Street, has now closed its doors. Recommendations from shop staff have encouraged me to buy a vast number of books. Daunt’s policy of stocking books by country doesn’t stop readers from shopping there, because their staff make your visit a pleasure.
But some bookstores have concentrated so heavily on magazine racks, toys, music and coffee counters that they no longer have an atmosphere conducive to browsing. They might see themselves as family media centres, but I can think of several chain branches which are noisy, messy and arduous to shop in. A good bookshop is not a toyshop or a newsagents or a restaurant – it primarily sells books, and ancillary services should come second.
With the arrival of eBooks, surely bookshops should capitalise on their unique selling point; the sheer pleasure of browsing shelves. I can think of no nicer way to spend an afternoon – and I’ll often buy a book I didn’t know I wanted, just because I’ve enjoyed the experience.

6 comments on “Bookshops: The Taboo Subject”

  1. Rich says:

    Going slightly off but my local library has just a major refit. It looks nice but unfortunately lacks the charm it had before. Doesn’t smell of books anymore either. Anyway, it appears that they are going to install a coffee machine there. I don’t see the point. The library is not a social hub. For me, it’s a place to browse books in, hopefully, relative peace.

  2. Clare says:

    Continuing the slightly off topic comment by Rich, a friend of mine is a librarian and she told me off a few days ago for suggesting libraries now had too few books having made ever more room for computers. She tells me libraries are no longer about books but are ‘information centres’ instead. It seems books shops also share this view.
    The onlu bookshop near me is a chain store as noted by Mr Fowler and the only books it seems to sell now are travel guides and children’s books. I can’t remember the last time I went in there which is a shame.

  3. Gill Whiteley says:

    I do so agree, about both libraries and bookshops. I recently re-joined the local library I used to work in many years ago. Having not been back in there since I left, I was amazed at how few books there now are. Our nearest bookshop is a Waterstones so unless we want only mostly mainstream stuff we have to rely on other sources. It’s a shame as nothing beats coming across a little gem you didn’t know existed!
    As for the slightly musty smell of a secondhand bookshop, how much longer will we be able to enjoy that?

  4. Helen Martin says:

    I wonder if part of the library problem is funding. There is concern in our town that there will be cutbacks in the library budget because the provincial grant (British Columbia)is already late and nothing has been heard. I don’t see a coffee machine turning up there any time soon, though. Yes, there is a computer lab, but that’s a service that has to be provided these days.

  5. I.A.M. says:

    Back to the book shops: there’s a delicate balance between someone coming up and badgering you until you purchase one of the book in the stack near the door, and hunting for a member of the staff for 45 minutes to ask where their SF section has been moved to this time. It’s nigh-on impossible to strike a happy medium there. The ones which are able to do it are always valued by customers, making those outlets last longer.

    I am firmly of the belief that Heaven is like a huge library or bookshop, with books landing in your hands merely be thinking “I’d really like to read something ______ just now…” That’d be cool!

  6. Travis Rutherford says:

    If you are finding your libraries now stock too few books, come to the Third World. Our libraries have no budgets for such wonders as computer labs and coffee machines. Granted the books were nearly all bought on budgets that ran out a decade ago, so you might not find Christopher Fowler’s latest, but the selections are still wonderful and people go there to read, research and borrow books. And our libraries are needed because only a tiny elite can afford to buy books imported from the USA and Europe.

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