What about an actual bookshop?

The alternative to the scrunched-up but cheaper book arriving from Amazon, is to go to a bookshop, if you have one nearby.

I don’t often do this, but just before Christmas Daughter was seized by a sudden urge to give her dental nurse a book about planets, so we repaired to Waterstones. She found one that fitted the bill, and bought it. Meanwhile I rested my tired legs sitting in one of Waterstones’ armchairs, within eavesdrop distance of the till.

Thus I overheard three conversations with potential customers asking about various books they wanted, with all three being told that unfortunately they didn’t have it in stock but could order it for them.

This is both helpful, and not. You get to talk to a human and you get information, even if it’s negative. It’s a pleasant sort of place to be in, and as I said, they have armchairs. If you don’t mind coming back, and have time to do so (this was on December 21st), then having the book ordered for you can be useful.

Or you go home and order it online. I would only go to the shop to browse, or in the full expectation that I could get my book there and then. If not, online buying allows me to sit in my own armchair, and there is still a delay in obtaining the actual book.

What Waterstones did have on that day, was a lovely selection of books that you buy when it’s Christmas, but that no one needs or knew they wanted. Plus a bookish lot of jigsaw puzzles and other more gadgety gifts with a book theme.

This is nice, but it’s not really what I look for.

I hear of authors going into their local shop looking for their own books, and being told they can order them.

Physical shops are good for browsing and finding something you might not have known you wanted. But these authors’ books will not be browsed and bought by happy coincidence. You need to know from the outset that you want to buy, and decide whether to shop online, or to visit your local shop twice to make the purchase. The latter is a lot of work in order to ‘support bookshops’ that appear not to stock what you’re interested in.

I don’t know what the solution is.

5 responses to “What about an actual bookshop?

  1. Am I the only person who doesn’t really count Waterstones as a local or independent bookshop?
    The few times I’ve used them I have never found the staff particularly knowledgeable. The shops are also full of other stuff(crap?) to fill up the shelves.
    I call a small bookshop with the owner working there a real bookshop. They get to know their customers, can make recommendations, + give a good service.
    They are being squeezed because of Amazon + Waterstones but they still exist + are gems.

    • Most are gems. Some are not. The one near where I used to live had an excellent children’s books department. Unfortunately there were other issues and I have been persona non grata there for nine years. This experience made me almost forget that other shops can be truly lovely places.

      I agree with you about Waterstones, but it’s all we have here. I believe you are blessed with a couple of good indies near you?

      And unlike the small indie with limited floor area, Waterstones do have quite big shops, and there should be room for some individual choices of books.

    • Of course they’re not independent, but the culture has changed dramatically since James Daunt became MD. They do seem to be making a genuine effort to move away from the years of WH Smith and HMV ownership (which was clearly necessary given their precarious financial situation), which makes them a far more interesting prospect. A good branch of Waterstones should have decent staff and be able to do a lot of what an indie does. (When I was a Waterstones bookseller over a decade ago, the staff were all amazingly well-informed, even if the company wasn’t…). I’d like to think there’s room for both.
      A good piece in the Guardian from last year on this: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/feb/03/balancing-the-books-how-waterstones-returned-to-profit

  2. I think it’s unrealistic to expect my local Waterstones – or any other bookshop – to stock every title I might want as there are thousands of books available. If I’m uncertain about something being stocked, I’ll phone to check a copy is available and/or order one in beforehand. There’s also the Hive, an online hub, that will send books to your nearest independent bookstore, or so I believe. (By the way, as a non-celebrity author, I long ago gave up expecting my books to be stocked anywhere.)

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