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Let’s Talk About Bookshops

We’re all book lovers here, right? And (other than the book itself) what is the greatest part of going shopping for books?

The bookshop itself.

50826157_569827396761301_6357881221170593792_nWe all love that particular book scent, yes? A bookshop can’t help but smell that way! Seriously though, if Jo Malone were to release a ‘Bookshop’ fragrance, I would happily buy up a couple of candles. Just think of all of the choices – where do you start?! Crime, romance, autobiography, travel, history, politics, the list can go on and on.

You could wander around for hours, piling as many tomes up in your arms as you possibly can, before you inevitably manage to drop one, and then the rest of them as you try and collect up the first. It’s a space in which you can travel around the world, insert yourself in fantastical lands, fanciful plots, or daring real-life escapades, through the power of writing and imagination. Isn’t it just the best?

Perhaps this is a romanticised image.

Actually, there isn’t really a ‘perhaps’ about it, is there. Of course this is wildly romanticised. This is the image created for us by Richard Curtis in Notting Hill. This is the fantasy that we create for ourselves, based on the idealised nostalgia all of us book lovers innately feel. I have a friend who has just got engaged to a man she met in a tiny independent bookshop – in my mind, that’s the dream.

I moved to Kingston-upon-Thames, on the outskirts of London, in late September last year. It wasn’t a town I was at all familiar with before the move, so it took a few weeks of getting incredibly lost every time I went in to the centre before I really started to get my bearings, and discover what the town had to offer. And there’s one thing it certainly doesn’t have to offer – bookshops. (It’s also seriously lacking any decent bars, but that’s a separate issue)

The only bookshop in the town centre was Waterstones – note that I say ‘was’.

I’ve grown up around Cheltenham and the Cotswolds, where independent bookshops stacked high with literary choices for everyone can be found around every street corner. I went to the University of York – if you know the city centre at all, you’ll know that the options for specialist, independent and vintage bookshops are second to none. (If anyone needs any recommendations, Fossgate Books is brilliant, with a phenomenal selection, and a fantastic proprietor who will have a recommendation whatever your taste – he even found my Giles-collector Father a rare Giles jigsaw!)

I was definitely spoilt for choice before now. And don’t get me wrong, I really like Waterstones. In the last few years, under new leadership, the environment in their stores has become incredibly warm and inviting, almost making you forget the monopoly that they now have over reading in the UK.

But this is where I encounter my current problem with Kingston’s lack of bookshops – the Waterstones in the town centre has recently closed, and without warning. A new cinema and development is being built above space, and the shop itself will have a complete refurbishment. But it’s now not supposed to open until Autumn. That’s nine months with no local bookshop.

I overheard a shopping centre security guard explain this to a family with young children, and he did not seem to be able to comprehend why the children looked so disappointed at the fact they would be unable to browse through the shelves – but I did. He emphasised that there was another Waterstones in the next town, if they really had to go.

Now admittedly, I can be at Waterloo within half an hour, so personally it’s not as if I don’t have any options. Hatchards is brilliant after all, and there is a Foyles within Waterloo Station itself. But is anybody else concerned by this? Why are we diminishing the worth of a bookshop?

I don’t need another cinema, or any more restaurants to choose from. But I do need a good bookshop. Now if I’m lucky, a batch of independents will spring up in the absence of Waterstones, but the likelihood of that if frankly rather slim. I can but hope!

If anyone has any recommendations for good bookshops, leave them down below – I’m willing to make a road trip!

This list makes for some great inspiration.

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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