The Guardian reported recently that the number of independent bookshops in the UK has dropped by 7% in the last year. In 2005, there were just over 1,500 indie bookshops operating in the UK, a figure which has decreased by a third in the last 7 years.
There’s plenty of debate on just why this might be; oft cited factors include recession, the new found popularity of the ebook and the convenience of online book buying. In fact, it becomes quite easy to envision tiny bookshops falling to their knees amidst the forlorn cries of avid book-lovers (and frequent book-buyers), knocked out ruthlessly in the first round by online super-giants Amazon. Though all of these things are probably in part responsible for the closure of bookshops over the UK, the picture’s not quite as simple as that.
With the book market taking an obvious step towards online trade, independent bookshops have to take this step too. As easy as it is to decry book buying through Amazon, their websites, including AbeBooks, create an invaluable platform for independent booksellers to modernise and start selling their books online. For booksellers who specialise in second-hand, out of print and antiquarian books, online markets provide a wider customer base than even their own websites could provide.
Whether ebooks will take over the book market is a whole other question, but it’s been quite firmly established through debate on the subject that books, and bookshops, offer something that ebooks don’t. People want physical books in their hands and on their shelves as much as they don’t want to haul their latest fantasy epic to work every day. Is it fair that Amazon hold a monopoly over the ebook trade? Not according to some booksellers. Will ebooks ever replace books? Probably not.
If you really would be sorry to see independent bookshops disappear forever, there are a few things you can do:
- Use your Amazon/Abe account without feeling guilty. If you need a specific text, and don’t have the time to look for it in the high street, order it online. But when you do, consider who you’re buying it from. You don’t have to to buy directly from Amazon, click on the used or new options and buy it from an independent bookseller.
- Shop in your local bookshop. The amount of people who tell me they’ve walked past the bookshop I work in nearly every day (sometimes for years!) and have only just got around to going in is unbelievable. If you see a bookshop that piques your curiosity, go in. Have a browse, buy a coffee (if it’s on offer), maybe pick up an interesting book. You don’t even have to buy anything, but either way, if you like it, tell your friends.
- Look out for bookshops that might interest you. If you don’t know where your local bookshop is, find it. If you live in the UK, you can use this site here. If you have a specialist interest, it’s likely that somewhere or other is a bookshop for you. There are bookshops that specialise in books by and for women, fishing, sci-fi and fantasy, there are even bookshops that are half bookshop, half bookbinders.