Happy Bookshop Day!
There are many reasons why I love where I live, but number one on the list has to be my very own independent bookshop. Obviously, it’s not just mine – I let other people use it too – but there is something about Regency Bookshop that always makes me feel like I’ve wandered into a 3D version of the inside of my own head. It’s a wee space (like my brain), but it is also a paper-packed oases of knowledge, magic and joy.
We need independent bookshops. Actually, we need independent shops, full stop, but since today (8 October) is Bookshop Day, I’ll stay on message and offer you my five reasons why you should get down to your local bookstore, be it independent or otherwise:
A sense of community
Like our much-abused libraries, bookshops are important community hubs. They bring readers closer to our favourite authors and characters – just this morning I waved at Hugless Douglas – and create a space for readers to come together.
They're also generally run by the sort of people that a) love recommending books to others and b) have an encyclopaedic knowledge of their specialist subject. Just this morning I heard Pat at Regency help a customer figure out whether the paperback version of Coralie Bickford-Smith’s beautiful The Fox and The Star was a good choice for her kids. You don’t get that with Amazon...
…alright you get the ‘you bought this, you might like this’ algorithm, but what about the ‘you've never even heard of this, but you should definitely try it’ personal touch? We all love to return to our favourite authors; familiarity is comforting. But reading is also an exploration. This is why I have never fully understood the phrase ‘never judge a book by its cover.’ Obviously I know what it means, but it is the very act of browsing covers, reading the blurb on the back, perhaps even checking out a few sentences, that helps us to make those all-important book-buying decisions. Some of my favourite books were accidental discoveries.
I’ve noticed that Waterstones is really starting to claw back this ‘personal touch’ ground, with its recommendations from staff and handing more power back to individual managers to select stock. It’s about time, too. As someone who used to work for the chain (a very long time ago), and who loves recommending books to people, I hated the pile it high, sell it cheap attitude that followed the arrival of Borders and Amazon.
It's also an opportunity to actually share a passion; to interact, God forbid, with another human being. I regularly stop and chat about a book I’m buying, or one that I’ve seen and want to buy, and am never made to feel like I’m wasting anyone's time. This has had a knock-on effect at my local indie, which runs its own loyalty programme. Unlike other stores, Regency keeps your card for you and I’m quite chuffed about the fact that Pat never has to ask my name anymore in order to pull out my card. And, since I don’t hold it myself, the eventual discount I receive is always a lovely surprise - like a Christmas present come early and an excuse to buy another book.
You can still shop as fast as online
I can’t speak for all independent bookshops, but every book (bar one specialist one) I’ve ever ordered through Regency has turned up the next day. What’s more, I don’t have to pay an annual fee for this service.
But if you’re an online fan, then Waterstones's service is very good or you could consider using hive.co.uk. You can order online and get your book delivered straight to your house, but it allows you to nominate a local bookshop to receive a percentage of your money every time you buy a book. Oh, and they pay their taxes.
Bookshops have had to diversify in order to compete, which, to my mind, means notebooks. Lots and lots of lovely notebooks. Just take a look at this beauty...
My favourite birthday cards and wrapping paper usually come from bookshops, too.
It’s tough out there, particularly for bookshops, which have been squeezed by both lower online prices and the rise of the ebook. In 2014, the Booksellers Association estimated that 500 independent bookshops had closed since 2005.
But to misquote Mark Twain: reports of the death of the book are greatly over-exaggerated. Earlier this year, it was reported that ebook sales fell for the first time in 2015, collectively declining by 2.4%. The ebook is very far from dead either (and has its place), but, like print magazines, I think this digital revolution has forced the publishing industry to take a long, hard look at itself. And, as a consequence, publishers are starting to innovate. Waterstones has started offering limited, numbered editions of new books by popular authors, such as Sarah Waters and David Mitchell, and the idea of book cover as a piece of art in its own right is on the rise.
I admit a bookshop to a bookworm is like an apple to a regular worm, but being taken to bookshops as a child and being allowed to choose what to read next are some of my favourite memories. I still get butterflies whenever I walk into a store.
Initiatives like Books Are My Bag and Bookshop Day are so important: bookshops are part of the fabric of our community, a notion that - when watching the news - feels horribly far away these days. And, besides, where else would I be able to wave at Hugless Douglas?