In reading group 1 the other day - or was it 2? – we got
onto the ‘why buy books from bookshops when there’s Amazon, charity shops,
friends to borrow from’ debate. And I surprised some of the others by railing
slightly at all three.
I’ve left libraries off that list because, as anyone who
knows me knows, I am passionate about the value of libraries and am massively concerned for
But currently, bookshops are possibly under greater threat – and could disappear more quickly - than libraries will (if the forces of
evil have their way on budget cuts).
How so? Well, I’m talking about the last major chain in the
UK, the public at large’s concept of a bookshop – Waterstone’s. (If you are
fortunate enough to have a thriving ‘independent’ bookshop near you then I urge
you to support them even more. We have started a list of our favourites here on the website. Do let us know of your favourites and we will add them to the list.)
Anyway, the chequered history of Waterstone’s is a labyrinth
that you can track back on Wikipedia – suffice to say that Tim Waterstone has
tried to save his eponymous chain at least once and is even now being asked whether
he’ll throw his cap in the ring should it become available once more. Which it
might well do as a result of the dilemma its latest owners, the HMV group, are
trying to resolve. And this in itself is a harbinger of what might happen with
books and bookshops.
HMV’s ‘record’ shops have had an especially tough Christmas,
partly because of the untimely bad weather in December, but also because we are
buying fewer CDs and DVDs on the high street. Downloading – legally or
illegally – has meant volume sales through the high street have dropped such
that HMV group is in danger of breaching its terms with its landlords.
A swingeing plan to divest the chain of underperforming
shops – both HMV and Waterstone’s – hasn’t been sufficient to stop the vultures
circling. At which point I ask you to think back just over a year: if there was
a Borders – or Books etc – near you, you may recall just how quickly they went
from apparently thriving places to closing their doors at the end of November
One of HMV’s options is to sell off Waterstone’s which seems
to be surviving better than the rest of the chain. Funds raised by so doing
would allow HMV to concentrate on repairing its core business and hopefully
allow Waterstone’s to remain on the high street as a going concern.
Which brings me back, hopefully, to my point. If
Waterstone’s were to go under then
where would you go to see what had been published recently? And I don’t mean a
computer screen, but a place to physically pick up a book because you . . .
like the shade of green on the cover or whatever trigger pulls in your brain to
select your reading.
All of which is to explain why yesterday I found myself in one of
Winchester’s two branches of Waterstone’s (one will surely close) handing over
my credit card to buy Andrea Levy’s Long
Song, Catherine O’Flynn’s latest, The
News Where You Are and The Hare with
the Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal. Yes, it was a 3 for 2 – an offer which
independents can’t afford – but I don’t even need to buy books. If a review
copy hasn’t come through here then I know someone in the publisher to blag a
I realise I’m on the verge of being sanctimonious but
seriously, if we really want the chance to walk in to a bookshop and browse –
something I suspect every single one of our readers enjoys – then we
need to buy as well. Because without our money bookshops will disappear
and before long electronic versions will start to sell more than ‘real’ books.
And wherever you may stand in that debate I have yet to meet
someone who doesn’t thrill to the feel and smell of a new book that you can
flick the pages of as you sample its delights.