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Bookshop demise – a global problem

A huge amount of our country’s classic bookstores have been closed forever. There are cities without a bookstore. …we risk having a youth that does not read at all.

Which country do you think the speaker is describing in this comment?

The UK perhaps? Figures released by the Booksellers Association in February showed that last year the number of outlets fall below 1,000. More than 60 bookshops closed in 2014 leaving just 987 across the country compared to 1,535 in 2005, prompting a warning by the Association that the situation had reached crisis point for independent retailers.

Or perhaps it was the USA? The American Booksellers Association (ABA) announced at BEA (Book Expo America) last year that the number of independent bookstores had halved in the last twenty years. However publishers had noticed a bit of a resurgence after years of decline that 2,000 independent bookstores now exist nationally, the highest number since 2005. Twenty years ago, there were twice as many independent bookstores, but after several years of decline the trade group is pointing to a resurgence.

Maybe the country in question is Australia?. This is the country where government minister Nick Sherry predicted in 2011 that bookstores would be extinct by 2016. One hopes that he was rather more successful as a small business minister prediction than he was as a predictor of the future given that the Australian Booksellers Association say claims of death for the bookshop have been greatly exaggerated and many independent and chain stores continue to thrive.

I will give you three clues to the identity of the country.

1. We’re talking about a geography that ranks at number nine in the world In terms of population ( estimated to be 142million)

2. This country has produced five Nobel laureates in literature.

3. 2015 has been designated as this country’s Year of Literature

Still not found an answer?. Let me take the pressure off for you by revealing that this is a comment relating to the state of the book industry in Russia.

The idea behind Russia’s Year of Literature is to to stimulate reading in the country. Yet local commentators say their book industry is facing its toughest test in decades with some cities not able to sustain even a single book store.  Moscow has between 400 and 500 outlets which is 11 times less than London which has a significantly lower population.

The high cost of books is one factor, another is the rental price of retail space according to the article in  Publishing Perspectives,.  The current rouble crisis isn’t going to help as local citizens deal with rising prices for the basics like food.   Interestingly the writers don’t make any reference to the role of e-reading or the competition from on line outlets which are challenging shops in other parts of the world. Maybe it wasn’t such a great idea after all to give all users of the Moscow underground free access to e-versions of Russian classics?

Leading authors say the industry will have to change and stores become more of a cultural hub rather than reliant on simply selling books. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? Bookshops in UK and USA started experimenting by selling stationery and gifts then branched into on site coffee shops. Maybe the Russians can come up with something more exciting.   Caviar and Chekhov anyone?

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