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Is Digital Killing Off the Overseas English Language Bookstores?

The digital age has turned everyone into “global customers.”

By Edward Nawotka, Editor-in-Chief

English language books section at Hugendubel in Frankfurt, Germany

As an American traveling abroad, one of my great pleasures was to steal a few moments to pop into a favorite English-language bookstore and browse, breathing in the familiar. Though the prices for books were often significantly higher than at home, I could nevertheless find a few moments of comfort with my native language, of the authors I’d grown to love, of the ambiance. And you could reliably find such stores in most major and mid-sized European cities, from Berlin to Milan to Lisbon, as well as throughout Latin America, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.

Paris was home to two of the best, Shakespeare & Co. — as much a tourist attraction as a bookstore — and the exemplary Village Voice, a serious store in all respects. But now comes the news The Village Voice is closing, with owner Odile Hellier noting that the digital age has turned everyone into “global customers” who, with an appropriate credit card, can easily buy books from abroad.

So, is this the end of the era, when the romance of meeting an attractive like-minded traveler on their Grand Tour tracing their finger over a small shelf of dusty William Gaddis and Harold Brodkey books…is just a memory?

Perhaps not. Some stores, such The American Book Center in Amsterdam continue to thrive, and others, like Another Country in Berlin and Beijing’s The Bookworm are finding success by serving as de-facto English-language libraries, as much as bookstores.

Let us know what you think in the comments.

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7 Comments

  1. Posted June 29, 2012 at 3:37 am | Permalink

    In Munich we lost the biggest dedicated English-language bookshop when Hugendubel Bookshop closed earlier this month on the 9th of June. This closure was all the more poignant given the fact that the shop’s premises were where the bookseller founded a family business in 1893, laying the foundation for what is now a very big German chain.

    I now satisfy my two-paperbacks-per-week habit via Kindle. Sic transit…

  2. Danielle
    Posted June 29, 2012 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    As an international traveller, it breaks my heart to hear that The Village Voice in Paris is shutting their doors. It was always a pleasure going into the shop and meeting Odile and the staff and getting their recommendations for new releases and classics. Sadly, Amazon, e-books and digital devices are cutting into traditonal bookstore sales and hurting their overall revenue. I am glad that American Book Center in Amsterdam and Den Haag are still alive and thriving as they have a wonderful staff of book lovers, and always have great author events.

  3. Ronaldo
    Posted June 29, 2012 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    With change, comes opportunity.

    Digital publishing is much more efficient:

    “No printing, no binding, no paper investment, no shrinkage, no returns, no inventory obsolescence ” – former Random House CEO Alberto Vitale

    It will give authors a fairer share of the profit (70% if you self-published). Some of which have become millionaires.

    selfpublishingsuccessstories.blogspot(dot)com
    The “200,000+ self-published ebooks sold” club:

    Barbara Freethy – over 2 million ebooks sold (April 2012)
    Amanda Hocking – 1,500,000 ebooks sold (December 2011)
    John Locke- more than 1,100,000 eBooks sold in five months
    Gemma Halliday – over 1 million self-published ebooks sold (March 2012)
    Michael Prescott – more than 800,000 self-published ebooks sold (Dec 2011)
    J.A. Konrath – more than 800,000 ebooks sold (April 2012)
    Bella Andre – more than 700,000 books sold (May 2012)
    Darcie Chan – 641,000 ebooks sold (May 2012)
    Chris Culver – over 550,000 (Dec 2011)
    Heather Killough-Walden – over 500,000 books sold (Dec 2011)
    Selena Kitt – “With half a million ebooks sold in 2011 alone”
    Stephen Leather – close to 500,000 books sold (Nov 2011)
    CJ Lyons – almost 500,000 ebooks sold (Dec 2011)
    J.R. Rain – more than 400,000 books sold (Sept 2011)
    Bob Mayer – 347 sold in Jan to over 400,000 total sold by year’s end (Dec 2011)
    Rick Murcer – over 400,000 ebooks in one year (May 2012)
    Tracey Garvis-Graves – sold more than 360,000 copies of her first novel
    Tina Folsom – over 300,000 books sold (October 2011)
    J Carson Black – more than 300,000 books sold (November 2011)
    Terri Reid – 300,000 sold (May 2012)
    Marie Force – 300,000+ sold (June 2012)
    Liliana Hart – “my total sales for one year have now exceed 300,000 books (June 2012)
    T.R. Ragan – 293,202 books sold (May 2012)
    B.V. Larson – over 250,000 books sold (Dec 2011)
    Kerry Wilkinson – more than 250,000 books sold (Feb 2012)
    M. R. Mathias – “I’m up to nearly 250k (in just two years) (June 2012)
    H.P. Mallory – more than 200,000 ebooks sold (July 2011)
    Scott Nicholson – Just guessing, I’d put my worldwide sales total between 200k-250k
    David Dalglish – more than 200,000 (May 2012)
    Antoinette Stockenberg – total sales stand at 216,686 (June 2012) – private email
    Cheryl Bolen – 200,000 sold (June 2012)
    Jennifer Ashley/Ashley Gardner – 200,000 sold mark in early June 2012 – private email
    Nick Spalding – “I’m lucky enough to be in the 200,000 + total sales club now (June 2012)”

  4. Posted June 29, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    Sitting in the Taiwan airport, with not an English book in sight.. click, click, my reading for the next 4 hour flight taken care of. Thank goodness for online books.

  5. Posted July 1, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    It’s a real shame that the Paris Village Voice Bookshop is being forced to close but unfortunately I am not overly surprised.

    For better or for worse, there is absolutely no question or doubt that increasing numbers of consumers are buying books online – whether physical books or eBooks, while Amazon is clearly the dominant player in the online English language book market.

    The key success factors for an independent bookshop are:
    • Location, location and location;
    • Quality of products, i.e. book selection; and
    • Knowledge and experience of staff.

    Unfortunately, whilst the Paris Village Voice would appear to meet these criteria, the niche nature of its market means its volumes are not sufficient to mitigate for sales lost Amazon and other online bookshops or to cover their (increasing) costs.

    The fact is that the Internet enables you to address all of, and more, of these key success factors with much lower overheads than operating one or more physical stores.

    A very good example of an “independent” retailer of an in-demand product which was very successful in the 1980s and 1990s because of their locations, quality of product selection and knowledge of staff was the wine retailer Oddbins. Essentially, the double whamy of the internet and supermarkets killed Oddbins off – they have lurched from one crisis to another over the last 10 years.

    I’m afraid, I see much the same happening to “independent” book shops – they too are being hit by the Internet and by supermarkets (In UK and USA at least) and will find it increasingly difficult to attract physical customers and sell sufficient volumes of books to cover their overheads, let alone make money. I wish them luck because they are, and should continue to be, an integral part of our cultural heritage but I fear the days of many hundreds of independent book shops are numbered.

    Books4Spain is one of the first online book shops which has been specifically developed as an online “independent” book shop whose objective is to retain the benefits and attractions of traditional independent book shops whilst using technology to offer better choice, an easier way to discover books about Spain, great customer service and, ultimately, to enable our clients to learn more about Spain, its culture and history.

    Our software platform has been developed to enable us to display and manage books in a number of ways and also to offer a variety of options with regard to free shipping, promotional codes etc.

    Our blog offers independent book reviews, interviews with authors, articles on Spanish culture and history, etc. It is designed to offer an interesting and attractive environment for book lovers to learn about books we list, their authors and also information about Spain.
    We believe this is the only way to compete with Amazon and if any independent bookshops are interested in using our software on a white label basis to run their own online bookshop then please get in touch.

  6. Posted July 6, 2012 at 4:18 am | Permalink

    If you come to Lausanne, Switzerland there’s a great little English book store called BooksBooksBooks run by a charming English guy Matthew Wake. He’s in the old town and has comfortable chairs, coffee and conversation for all who visit. http://www.booksbooksbooks.ch It’s not all about Paris, Berlin and airports when you travel to Europe..

  7. marjorie lallemand
    Posted August 19, 2012 at 5:23 am | Permalink

    Do the self-published writers who sell their ebooks work with editors?

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