Saturday, 18 August 2012

What Price Bookshops?

There has been a lot of discussion about the future of print books. I have been posting recently about Waterstones' new events policy which threatens to further undermine struggling sales. Waterstones are right to host more high profile celebrity ticketed evening events. They should be doing all they can to create more of a buzz about bookshops.  But it is authors who are happy to spend time in bookshops who make a difference to sales figures. Customers buy books by celebrities and a few big names regardless of events in the stores. Inviting such authors into bookshops won't increase sales in the store. Many readers will bring books for signing with them - often books they have bought online.
There will be more discussion about Waterstones' new deal to sell kindles in their stores. Amazon  report that sales of ebooks (excluding free downloads) already outstrip their online sales of print books 114 to 100. It took 4 years for this to happen in the US. In the UK it has taken 2 years for sales of e-books to overtake sales of print books.
My own books sell far more lucratively as e-books than print books. Am I clinging to a bygone era in my passion to support physical bookshops? Do they matter to modern culture?
Waterstones is no longer financially self-supporting, our only remaining chain of bookshops surviving thanks to Russian billionaire Mamut.
Perhaps there's nothing wrong with that. After all, Shakespeare needed his patron. But it's a sobering thought that the whole of Waterstones was bailed out for £53 million - far less than some clubs pay for their top footballers.



17 comments:

John Cowton said...

I couldn't agree more. The world will be a poorer place without our book shops. Book shops have to be part of modern culture but in order to do that they need to adapt or we lose them. The end of civilisation as we know it.
Normally me and soapboxes are strangers to each otter, but you really got me going on this one and I ended up writing 750 words which is more than a comment. I've posted it on my blog. You are welcome to have it on your blog Leigh or take a look at mine, screenscribbler.blogspot.com

Bernard Lee DeLeo said...

Apples and oranges, my friend. Publishing and readership are two entities in an extreme cycle of change, as is marketing. If past lessons are valuable, and I believe they are, clinging to anything that can be outstripped by technology is indeed futile.

Leigh Russell said...

I really like it that the first two comments on this post express such oppposing views. This kind of debate in a public forum seems very healthy sign of an open society where people are concerned about our culture. Thank you for commenting.

Leigh Russell said...

John - I'm glad you agree and thriled that my post provoked you to join me on my soapbox. I'll take a look right now. This is how we can help to spread the debate. Whatever the outcome (probably sadly inevitable) let's not give up without a fight!

Leigh Russell said...

Yes, Bernard, to cling to anything that is being outstripped by technology is indeed futile, as you say. But if enough readers determined to buy a book in a bookshop every week, or every month, or whenever they could afford it, we could save the bookshops. It's only inevitable if we allow it to be. (Which we will, I know, but... back to the beginning of this comment...)

Val said...

I think bookshops especially the mom and pop stores that I visit will remain open.
Many of these little shops also include items like 'fine wine', or other local trinkets.
One shop combines books with art!
Another features local authors who come and meet local folks.

And...and there are just some kinds of books that would never ever be good as a kindle.

Bookstores, the big chain ones are in danger if they don't adapt.

E-books though are here to stay. Sorry to say, I've got a kindle and find it easy to read, but pick up many types of books at the local little shop.5

Leigh Russell said...

That shop sounds great, Val. No need to apologise for reading e-books, they have a lot to offer. But there should be a place for print books as well. Fingers crossed!

fizzycat said...

I could never stop reading printed books.
But must admit I may buy a kindle in the future, simply as my house is tiny .
Some print books are keepers and will always stay.
Others move on to charity shops, difficult but at least they are going somewhere.
Others, say certain cook books may be placed upon such a machine.
Perhaps it is a age thing but am always going to have books and bookshelves it just has to be so.

Leigh Russell said...

Is it an age thing, fizzycat? Do you think the days are numbered for print books? Thanks for commenting, fizzycat!

Leigh Russell said...

Bernard - glad to see you're still writing. I tried to leave a comment on your blog but I'm not on google+ or I don't think I am... Will be commenting on your blog once I sort that out as I don't seem to be allowed to leave a comment otherwise.

Bernard Lee DeLeo said...

Yeah, Leigh, I'm still churning out books. I have five finished new releases I have to space out over the coming year, but only available in the dreaded Kindle format. :) You are welcome to comment anytime.

Leigh Russell said...

Thanks, Bernard. I'll manage to negotiate the google+ system one day. (I'm sure it's not difficult)

Vicky Newham said...

7wHi Leigh & everyone, I feel conflicted and confused about this issue. As a writer who is completing her first crime novel, I am unpublished and will shortly be pitching for a publishing contract. I love 'physical' books and have shelves of them from various eras of my life. But I have recently been 'seduced' by the convenience (weight & size) of a Kindle, and by the comparitively (much) cheaper price of e-books; I simply cannot afford to buy new books at the moment. Whilst I want to support book shops with my custom - esp. independent ones - I cannot afford to. However, I would - and will - be very happy to give up my time to do in store events & book signings such as those that you do, Leigh. I don't understand Waterstones' reasoning behind their decision to stop signings, and have seen that they are selling tickets for high profile author events. I guess the latter may generate income, but I would have thought that the former would do too, albeit perhaps in a different way. I don't know why they don't do both. I've also seen that they want events staffed by their sales personnel and I don't know if this means that actual book authors are no longer welcome or seen as an asset. I would guess that much of the reason why 'the public' attend such events is to 'meet the author'. I also think that there is no better person to sell a book than the person who's written it! I absolutely agree with you, Leigh, that authors and bookstores should collaborate and support each other, but it appears that various issues make the situation more complex than it might appear. Waterstones must have their reasons & I assume someone's done the maths. They may find it works or that it doesn't. Perhaps in a year another edict will be issued, reversing the decision. I wouldn't be thrilled to have an event cancelled at the last minute, especially if I'd paid for travel in advance, but I guess all you can do is put your energy into what you feel is 'right' and what is advantageous. I don't think I've shed much light on this debate but have added my view, for what it's worth!

Leigh Russell said...

This is what we should be doing, Vicky, openly discussing the situation whatever your views. The survival of bookshops *should* be a matter of public interest. Sadly I'm not sure it is. Personally I believe the new policy is a question of opinion, not maths. On the contracy, it's an opinion I believe to be misguided in terms of sales. It's immaterial really, as it is patronage, not sales, ensuring Waterstones' survival at the moment. With kindles on sale in the High Street, the face of Waterstones will change again. Is this inevitable or can we keep our bookshops going?

fizzycat said...

Replying to your comment (and agreeing with comment on water on my blog)perhaps it is an age thing.
I know there is no way I could not visit bookshops and it isn't just the books.
Secondhand bookshop smell and new bookshop smell,the delight of making a selection.
Finding a new writer at the library, not on a screen.
All these not possible on Kindle.
Nice bookmarks given as gifts- gosh hadn't even thought of that before.

Leigh Russell said...

Yes, the delight of making a selection in a physical bookshop, Fizzycat! Let's hope we can continue doing that for many years to come.

Guillaume said...

Maybe I am old fashioned, but I miss a good old bookshop.