Most of you who know me will know that I'm a bit of a serious reader. I always have one or two books on the go, and if it looks like I'm about to finish a book without one to follow it up I start to get very anxious. One of the best things my history teacher ever taught me was to never leave the house without a book in your bag (thanks Mr Mealing!) and I have kept to this rule, even if there's no room in my bag for anything else, or I know perfectly well I won't have any time to read while I'm out (except of course that there's always time to read, even if it's just the brief 30 seconds when Marty is in the pub garden having a fag).
Having been a bookseller for a long time, and now working for a sort-of small publishers, I love bookshops. Like all good, decent people. Recently though, I have been doing a very bad thing.
I have been buying books off the interwebs. You know the one. Named after a really big load of trees.
This makes me sad, because when I worked in a bookshop, buying books off the internet was really only one step up from buying them from a supermarket (which is always evil, by the way). Not because Amazon really is the devil, mind, but because when the book trade struggles it's the proper bookshops that get it in the neck, and find it difficult to compete- bookshops have to persuade you to get off your bum and come in the shop after all, whereas Amazon just needs you to roll your eyeballs over the screen.
However, since leaving the bookshop and entering the big wide world of being a bookbuyer, I have discovered the way in which Amazon really kicks the ass of bookshops- range. Like I said, I'm a serious reader. When I discover a new author I like, I tend to go through their back catalogue, as I am with China Mieville at the moment. I wanted to read Iron Council, and given that Mieville is a pretty famous sci-fi/fantasy author I thought I wouldn't have any trouble finding a copy in my nearest bookshop.
Did I buggery.
The bookshop nearest to me is small, so perhaps this is slightly unfair. Mieville writes huge honking doorstops, and you just can't always give up that much of the shelf to one author (believe me, I know this very very well). But once I started to look I realised that not only were there lots of very important and obvious genre books not represented, but that the shelves were exactly the same as they'd been every time I'd been in over the last 6 months. If I was waiting for them to stock more than just the most recent Charlie Parker P.I I would be waiting a very long time.
The problem is (and this is something else I know from personal experience) too much emphasis on the sort of books that arrive in crates and piled in pyramids at the front of the shop; the Richard and Judy choices, the latest celebrity biography, the newest novelty book in the vein of The Dangerous Book for Boys. If you want the first part of Robin Hobb's Farseer trilogy you're stuffed, but if you need 20 copies of a ghostwritten biography of a vacuous celebrity twat you're laughing.
This is dangerous for bookshops because, dare I say it, the people who read the celeb bios and misery memoirs are less likely to be the sort of readers who need a book in their bags at all times, and are therefore less likely to be back in every week for their fix.
I fully understand the need to supply the "watercooler books", but the terrible truth of it is; if I can't get the book I'm after, eventually I will trawl the interwebs and discover how easy it is to roll my eyes over lots of books I hadn't even thought of buying, and bookshops (beautiful, amazing, irreplaceable bookshops) lose a few more sales.
Come on! I'm an addict, be my dealer.
A hard decision - but the right one
4 weeks ago