Posted tagged ‘bookstores’


July 24, 2011

I confess that I read with some sadness that the major American bookstore chain, Borders, is finally to close. Admittedly this has been on the cards for some time. The Borders stores in the UK and Ireland had already closed their doors some time ago, and last year the company announced the closure of several of their outlets in the United States. But now the game is up, and from the autumn there will be no more Borders shops anywhere.

With Borders closing, and Waterstones in the UK struggling somewhat, we may not have to wait too long before all the major bookstore chains have folded. Barnes & Noble in the US seem to be still holding their own, and of course we have the online presence of Amazon (whose success has been a major factor in the failure of the others).

Why should I be sad? Not very long ago Borders and Barnes & Noble were being portrayed everywhere as the big bullies of the book-selling world and the destroyers of smaller bookshops. The movie You’ve Got Mail had this as one of its key themes. But in fact, I always found Borders a rather good place to browse, and I rather liked the atmosphere I found there – not least because they had introduced the books-and-coffee theme that somehow seemed so civilised.

But now reading is moving online, and that’s the way it goes. I cannot complain, because that’s how I do much of my buying and reading. But I would like to think that the small independent bookshop, many of which have managed to survive, will still stay in the game. In fact, I’ll make a point of shopping in one this week.


Out of print

February 3, 2011

For a few days just after Christmas, my family and I took a short vacation in California (not having had any summer holiday last year). We stayed in Santa Barbara, a rather beautiful town on the Pacific about 100 miles north of Los Angeles. As we often do while on holiday, on the first day we headed straight for the local bookshops. In fact, Santa Barbara has a Borders bookstore and a Barnes & Noble. No, that’s not correct, they had these. On our first day we were able to get into Borders, but discovered they were closing down. We had a look around anyway and thought that, the next day, we would head across the road to Barnes & Noble. But the next day we found that, suddenly and as far as we could see without warning, Barnes & Noble had shut completely. We decided against planning any other bookshop visits in case that it also prompted them to close.

Well, as people in these islands know, this is not a unique American phenomenon. Over the past few days the largest chain of bookstores here, Waterstones, has announced the closure of several shops, including its two Dublin ones. This comes not long after Borders in the UK and Ireland also closed down. Analysts looking closely at the bookseller business now assume that, within five years, no major chain of bookshops will be trading.

What are we to make of this? Well, one thing we don’t need to conclude is that nobody is reading books. That is manifestly not the case. But how people buy them has changed fundamentally. Those who – how shall I put this – are not opting for very demanding books are more often than not buying them in Tesco supermarkets or in newsagent chains. Others are buying them online, in some cases in ebook versions. In fact, ever since Amazon’s business model came right the writing was on the wall for the big chains.

So will we now have to shop for books online only? No, I don’t think so. It has been suggested that one type of shop now making a comeback is the independent (and often smaller) bookstore. And that may well be true. I don’t know if I’m at all typical, but I now buy most of my books online, but I do walk into some small bookshops I know about once a month and browse, and invariably I come out with something bought. Moreover, when I was shopping in Waterstones I went straight for the section I has in mind. Now, in a smaller space, I look around at everything, and my purchasing has become much more eclectic.

It’s not long ago that concerned bibliophiles regularly complained about the major bookstore chains, arguing that their approach was anti-intellectual and not based on a real understanding of books. Well, they’ve gone. Independent shops are back. And access to a huge range of books online is easy and fast. This morning, while reading about Waterstones in the newspaper, I thought I would miss them. Maybe I won’t.

In praise of small bookshops

August 14, 2008

As readers of this blog will know, I have recently purchased and am using an Amazon Kindle e-book reader – despite the difficulties facing those trying to do so from an address outside the United States. However, while on my recent visit to the US (now concluded) I also took the time to visit several bookshops. I browsed in the usual Borders and Barnes & Noble book superstores, but my favourite shop on this occasion was a small bookstore called Indigo Books, close to Kiawah Island in South Carolina. It is, when compared with Borders, a very small shop, but it has a wonderful range of interesting books, with fiction veering more towards the literary, and some interesting history books, and other books with a local dimension. The owners are extremely pleasant and helpful, and I hope my custom repaid their good service.

In fact, I have a particular liking for small bookshops. There is another such shop in Mullingar, for example, with a similarly interesting collection of books and very helpful service. I find that when visiting such shops I invariably walk out with several purchases, whereas I can go to Borders, or Waterstones, and buy nothing.In fact, if I want to buy a book from a source with huge resources and choices, I will usually now go online to Amazon – where in terms of bulk I now buy most of my books.

So what is it that attracts me to little bookshops? Not the small size per se – I am not a particular fan of small shops generally, and find myself attracted to the big stores with the mega choices. But it’s different with books. What we read is something quite personal, something that tells us something about ourselves and how we relate to the community. And a small bookshop, run by someone who has an obvious passion for reading, makes that link to the community in a particularly satisfying way.

So wherever I go, if I see a small bookshop and if I have a few minutes, you’ll find me in there. And I shall almost never leave bearing the same aggregate weight. And while I hope that internet retailing continues to thrive, I shall always do what I can to support the small bookseller, and I hope others will, too.