Sunday Salon: RIP the airport bookshop

sundaysalonA few months ago in one of my Salon posts  I was bemoaning the absence of a decent bookshop in some of the airports I have to frequent on my work trips. Both outlets at Detroit have disappeared, Chicago’s has been squeezed into a tiny space, Heathrow Terminal 5 can’t manage to rustle one while Terminal 4’s offering is little more than a glorified stationery and confectionary retailer.

The reason for this demise is a financial one according to a column by Tyler Brûlé in the Financial Times yesterday. Airports are trying to find new revenue streams by capturing travellers when they are at a vulnerable moment, either looking for a diversion to fill in the hours before their (delayed) flight leaves or they’re in holiday mood and ready to splash out on a treat. Hence why some airport authorities are turning over more space to retail so the terminals look even more like shopping malls. Book sellers are the victims in this because they can’t get margins high enough to meet the increasing rents being charged. Hence why Brûlé could have bought a Hermes scarf at Frankfurt airport but not a magazine or a book.

Heathrow hasn’t got that dire yet. If you’re content to choose from best sellers and crime fiction, you can still take advantage of the options at Smiths. I couldn’t resist the temptation and ended up buying  The Luminaries even though I already had one book in my hand luggage and about ten unread titles on my iPad. I justified it on the basis that I need to read it at some point to progress my Booker prize project, so with a long flight ahead of me, now might be a good time. I might come to regret that decision though when my shoulder starts protesting from the weight of this monster…


About BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

Posted on June 29, 2014, in Sunday Salon and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. I had to buy ‘The Luminaries’ for my iPad because it was too thick to fit on the reading stand I have to use. The trouble is that once they’re on there I tend to forget about books because I can’t immediately see them so I’m afraid to say it is still unread. With only a couple of weeks to go before this year’s long list comes out I should really do something about that.

    • I took that approach with The Goldfinch and similarly forgot about it. I just don’t seem to get as enthused by opening a new book on an e reader as I do the real thing.

  2. That is sad. A Hermes scarf won’t keep me entertained very long if I run out of things to read.

  3. It is sad to see all of them closing. One of the airports in my home state not only has a bookstore, but has a USED bookstore! Or it was still there the last time I flew through, hopefully it can last.

  4. Of all the places I thought the bookstore was safe! Sad to hear of the large-scale demise of the airport book shop. As for buying The Luminaries, I think it was warranted. Though, I downloaded it for fear it would rip my arms out of socket.

    • I’m beginning to think I should have gone for the e version for that reason. Though the problem is then that I can’t keep looking back at the character list to keep them straight in my head

  5. The Portland (Oregon) airport still has a rather lovely Powells, with a pretty eclectic selection of titles. I bought my first Kate Atkinson there in TPB, many years ago.

  6. Gatwick (both terminals) has only the standard WHSmiths offering, which tries to be all things to all men – books, magazines, puzzles, sweets, crisps etc.

    I’m rarely looking for book when at an airport – on the way out I havent used up the battery on the ebook (or broken the spine on a book) and on the way back – am only hours from home, which is usually nap during.

    With the use of ebooks, would a new/better model now be to have a booth where you can buy an ebook and load it to your reader? Not quite the same, but…..

    • They will certainly need to find other business models Nordie. I suppose the issue with the ebooksread download idea you mention is that all people need is a wireless connection and they can get thr book anyway in the airport without having to queue up.

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