I love books! I love the process of writing a book, the amazing feeling you get when you read a good book, the fun you have discussing a book with your friends, and last but not least I like buying books. In my last post I was excited about going out and getting some new titles from the biggest sale that happens here yearly. It was good. It was. But it got me thinking: I buy many books although my budget doesn’t always agree with this. And I buy them online because it’s cheaper.
A title that I saw in a bookshop a couple of months ago was around 10 Euros. I was a bit reluctant to buy it then, although I really wanted it. First thing I did when I got home was to search for it on the internet, and needless to say the internet price for it was 7 Euros. Yes, I know, it’s not a big difference, but IT ADDS.
The reason behind this difference in price was explained to me by someone at some point: bookshops need to pay their personnel, rent for the place, license, etc . Obviously, I thought, but how about the online shops? Don’t they have personnel, a place where they have an office and have to pay rent for, etc? I think the real reason behind all this is the convenience. You know what title you need, you make some clicks, a week later taa daa the book is at your door steps, wrapped in cardboard, and accompanied by some commercials. It’s cheaper because they can make it cheaper since they have a bigger customer base than retail shops. And then my real question is: will the retail shops slowly crawl up in their graves and give their last breath?
In my town there are two bookshops: A big chain bookshop where you can buy anything else from pens to paper, table games, etc. This chain is present in almost every town in Sweden, and they also have an online site for books. Their prices for books are much higher than anything online (and retail for the matter), even though they have an online shop also. Once I went there asking about a book I wanted, but could not find in the shelf. The person at the desk preceded in googling the title, showing it to me for confirmation and telling me that he can order it for me but it will cost me 2 extra euros for the service. What service you may ask? The service of ordering it online, and having it delivered at the shop where I could pick it up, a service that is otherwise free if I were to do it myself. Needless to say I told him that he shouldn’t bother. This chain will never die. It’s going strong. Their prices are so high for virtually anything that their profits must be off the roof. However, it’s a WELL established chain and people buy there everything they need from post-its to pens. I used to the same thing, thinking these are Swedish prices and that’s that. Well it’s not. Needless to say this is killing all the small bookshops who can’t survive the competition with something so strong.
The other bookshop in my town is run by a nice man who I can tell loves books. Many many interesting titles. This bookshop however is suffering from a global plague. There is no name for it. But you will know what I mean when I will tell you that I was once asking for Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee. He looked at me with a sad look and told me he doesn’t have it anymore. He had it a while after it won the Nobel price, but after that nobody wanted to buy it anymore. Fifty Shades was gloating at us from the shelves. It was sad. He was sad. But he needs to survive, keep his shop up and running. And he doesn’t have an online shop. And people are not makig ques outside.
It would be naive of me to tell you to go buy your books from the shelf, and support these shops that are being killed by big chain with no soul and no passion for books. It would be hypocritical also, since I am buying online myself. I am a poor student who needs to do with what she has. But STILL I always enter bookshops when I have time. There is something that you can’t do quite the same as in an online shop: browse. I enter the shop and it’s everything: the smell of paper, the weight of the book as you pick it up and flip it to read the backside description, the chat you have with the owner/personnel as you pay. And then on your way out you see another title and it gets you curious, so you pick up the book…. You know exactly what I am talking about!
Today is not the day when I will talk to people who can’t remember what it is to browse for books. You maybe picked up a conversation with a fellow customer yourself and found a new friend, bought a book that you didn’t search for but that you found you can’t stop reading at home.You still know what it is to buy from a bookstore. Once I was in an Uppsala, Sweden, bookshop, just browsing, picking up books and looking at anything new that came up. This book had a paper sticking up reading ´´This is a great book!´´. I don’t know if it was the staff that put it there; no other book had that, so I guessed maybe it was a customer? It was an author I never read before, but on a wild impulse I bought it. Leaving the bookshop I felt somehow empowered and filled with a freedom feeling, thinking I did something academically spontaneous. The book turned out to be even better than the note had promised it would be. It was The Traitor Game by B.R. Collins. It is a book about fantasy, a children’s pain and feelings, a world he makes up with a friend. I would have never found this author had I not walked in the shop that day. Since then I have bought another title from this author. Online of course. However, the feeling lingered, and every time I go to Uppsala I decidedly go to that bookshop, look around, and it’s freaking great. Try it out! Go to your local bookshop and browse. Take a bus and travel somewhere you never went before and hunt for books. I know, I know, nobody has time for that anymore, but it’s going to be great. You are reading a blog about books so I know you will like the feeling the discovery of a new book will give you.
If local bookshops will die, we will feel sorry. You will want to take your children and make them choose their own by picking up book after book, and looking at the pictures inside; you will want to go yourself and get a new book, an unexpected one, a book that you will pick up in a nice ambiance, surrounded by the paper’s dusty smell. And there will be no place like this anymore. There will be just cold kindles, packages waiting at our doors, and no exiting trips from the shop when you seem to float on your way home thinking you want to get into that book you just bought because the description sounded so damn interesting.
This is an article I read some couple of good months ago. It is heartbreaking that it happens, but unfortunately this is not the only example of a local bookstore that had to close.