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.