Much later in the debate

Where are you? Doing the rounds of Christmas parties, shopping at Waterstone’s or ordering from Amazon in the comfort of your own homes?

I was going to continue the debate about bookshops that was in the press a month ago (I know, I got sidetracked). Since then I have a feeling that the interest has moved away from whether or not Waterstone’s are evil, to what will happen to poor Borders?

On the whole, bookshops are nice places to go. Some have policies that are more palatable than others. But they do at least sell books. Few of us can say that we don’t mind what we pay, and some years ago I used to pay more than I needed to in order to support our local independent. I don’t any longer. In the rare circumstances that I need a book now, I may go for a 3 for 2 in a chain if I’m out shopping, but most likely I’ll order on the internet.

Bad witch.

I boycotted Waterstone’s for a few years when they treated the Terry Pratchett fans who came prepared to an event, with new book already purchased, as the lowest of customers. Let them wait for a few hours at the back of the queue since they weren’t going to pay for another one. Fenced off like cattle.

But at least the chains don’t force you to buy out of a sense of duty. Just because you have entered an independent bookshop, doesn’t mean you are made of money. Maybe you only needed one book, and could just about face paying full price for it. The last thing you need is to have a few more books waved in front of you by the ‘handselling’ indie owner, pointing out that these would be just your thing. And how about this one, too?

And ordering books fast. Is that Waterstone’s doing? Or is it that things in general have moved on, so that you can have the book next day, rather than the three weeks I used to have to wait? That long ago, I was usually accompanied by a family member in a pushchair, and our town had two bookshops. Both with an upstairs, which was where you had to pick up the book you’d waited so long for. For a while I favoured the shop with a lift, until it broke.

‘So you mean I can’t get up there?’ ‘That’s right…’ I moved on to the liftless shop, where they offered to help carry my young person up the stairs. (But it would really have made sense to offer to pop up and get the book for me, wouldn’t it?)

Personally I like the new style shops with seats and drinks, but if I’m to settle in for that long, I’ll want customer toilets, too. And not of the variety where you get a key/code once you’ve paid for your purchases, as though you’re a child. And we all know children are hardly ever nice, except when older generations spend on books for them.

Most bookshops and most chains have got something going for them.  I have finally grasped after years in Britain, that you mustn’t admit to being hard up. Though that could be why you have picked the cheaper shop, or even why you aren’t buying at all. And you must always, always buy things for people. Gifts and cards for every reason, no matter how distant or ridiculous. I have adapted to this, too, but almost wish I hadn’t.

Scrooge needn’t be bad tempered and unfriendly, but Scrooginess is necessary as far as saving money/earth’s resources are concerned. We can go too far.

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6 responses to “Much later in the debate

  1. “On the whole, bookshops are nice places to go. Some have policies that are more palatable than others. But they do at least sell books”

    I bought the first Christmas presents today – online. I might have been able to buy one of them in the local bookshop, but my family don´t put run-of-the-mill books on the list so … I think I have secured a fine old Lewis Carroll book for our youngest for example (from 1963).

  2. I can’t remember how many years ago it was. Between five and ten, anyway. I went into the bookshop with the lift and ordered a hard to get, but not impossible book. Never heard a squeak from them after that.

    Shared my desperation with the Resident IT Consultant, who searched the internet for me (I wouldn’t have known how, in those days) and pointed me in the direction of a few shops across the globe who had it. (So my bookshop could have got it there, and added all that extra money they had promised to charge for the sheer fun of it.)

    I decided on the shop in Canada, as their copy was signed. Worked out when they ought to be open while I was awake and phoned. ‘Oh goodness’, said the lady on hearing what a far flung customer she was talking to. She took my credit card details and address and posted the book to me.

    Cheap and efficient, and pleasant service.

  3. Well, as someone who works in an independent bookstore, you may be surprised that I pretty much agree. I really don’t like the idea of guilting of people into supporting your business. The way I think of it though is that if people do want these particular storefronts to continue to exist, as many people seem to feel about ours, they do have to realize that money is required to maintain its presence. If they’re happy enough to forego it, no harm no fault in my book. I do think that safe, warm public places to congregate are important, so I hope that speed and ease won’t be such paramount values that people lose what they actually want to have continue.

    We have a Borders in our town. They are, of course, our “archenemies”. But my own personal beef with them–in a quite impersonal way is this–our town was devastated by an earthquake in 1989. We literally did not have a downtown for several years after that. Our store, like many local businesses, hung in there by renting large tents and working in them until such time as the downtown was rebuilt. It wasn’t easy. It was freezing in winter and a literal sweatshop in summer. The downtown finally reopened and stores moved into new and restored building, usually hugely in debt because of the lost revenues of the tent years.

    When the climate was healthy again–when things were ‘looking up’, suddenly Borders was shopping for real estate. There were protests and the like but in vain–Borders got a foothold. But of course a chain bookstore in any town is but a fair weather friend. I don’t mean that they are villains–they started out as a little indie chain in Ann Arbor after all. What I mean is that it is the nature of chains and capitalism is that they are always only looking at a town as a business opportunity. If our store had gone under due to Borders and all the other the things that have threatened the indies over time–Amazon, obviously, but also a hundred other economic challenges–now, when rumor has it that Borders may well close out all their leased stores within the next year or so, our town would end up impoverished in terms of the public literary spaces that it has long enjoyed.

    I like virtual space as well as the next person. But I do also value downtowns and places that allow communities to intermingle on all levels. Bookstores do happen to be one of those places.

  4. That sounds typical of chains, actually. Glad you survived the tent age.

    I loved Waterstone’s when it first opened. So did other book lovers. What’s interesting is how a new great concept becomes dirty so fast. Rather like politicians.

  5. Good analogy.

  6. Pingback: National Bookshop Day | Bookwitch

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