Do We Philosophically, Emotionally Need Bookstores?

In Discussion by Roger Tagholm

bookstore-shelvesBy Roger Tagholm

Calls for the UK government to address high street rents and rates to help bricks and mortar booksellers were made by both Philip Jones, editor of The Bookseller, and Foyles CEO Sam Husain at the London Book Fair last Monday. Speaking at the session “Are bookstores here to stay?” Jones said: “I think Amazon’s dominance in both digital and physical books needs to be looked into. I think the competition authorities should worry less about collusion.

“I don’t think there’s a philosophical movement against bookshops — it’s economic. Rents and rates are only going in one direction. Government can change that. If it can give tax breaks to Amazon for opening a warehouse in Scotland, it can change the economics of the high street. I think philosophically and emotionally we need physical bookshops. They are an essential link with the reader.”

Husain said the high street was becoming a dull place. “There needs to be some leadership, perhaps government intervention through different rates, that kind of thing. Bookshops are the first interaction with the consumer. It’s a changing market place and we need to address what consumers want. We’ve put a stake in the ground by saying that we think a flagship store is central to our strategy.”

Jones said that when he took over as editor of The Bookseller six months ago, some publishers said he would have to change the title of the magazine to The Publisher, “because there wouldn’t be any bookshops left. That made me realise that we have to re-emphasize bookshops as part of the publishing business. There is a lot of talk about digital and apps and all manner of new developments, but not much of it was involving bookshops.  But if we lose bookshops, we lose and essential link between the author and the reader. And there are stats which show that books being discovered in bookshops, being showcased, contributes to as much as £450 million in sales.”

To this end the magazine hosted some workshops with Foyles recently to imagine the bookshop of the future. “Some fabulous ideas came out of those workshops,” Husain said. “It’s all about what we can do to add value. We place great emphasis on training staff so they can talk knowledgeably about books; we have an exchange programme with publishers where they work in our store and we send staff to a publishing house; and we have community-related events where we build a bit of theatre around the authors.”

Jones had one specific suggestion for the future. “If I was a bookseller, I’d follow the self-published charts closely and I’d made an effort to get those books in – PoD technology allows that now, with the machines, like the Espresso, now becoming more manageable and requiring less space.”

And he offered this comparison of the two ways of buying books. “Physical bookshops sell you a book that you didn’t know you wanted until you walked in. Online it’s a narrowing experience – when you walk into a shop, it’s a widening experience.”

About the Author

Roger Tagholm

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Roger Tagholm is based in London and has been writing about the book industry for more than 20 years. He is the former Deputy Editor of Publishing News and the author of Walking Literary London (New Holland) and Poems NOT on the Underground (Windrush Press).