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Sunday Salon: RIP the airport bookshop

A 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…


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