Hello there. Hope you’re feeling well today.One of the great things about Twitter is that it can lead you to things and moments that you half forgotten or slotted in the back archives of your memory. Yesterday @Warlkareham (all rights reserved etc etc) made a joke about the 1998 Tom Hanks Meg Ryan movie You’ve Got Mail (I won’t tell you what the joke was. It’s only fair that you have a look at his Twitter feed).
I’d seen the movie with the wife. Meg Ryan’s small independent bookstore under threat from Tom Hank’s megastore bookshop chain. Two things occurred to me when I saw the Tweet. Firstly with regard to my chat about Julie and Julia (also written and directed by Nora Ephron) this is unquestionably a woman’s film. Or shall we say a film designed with women in mind.
But secondly, even though email is an important part of this piece I cannot think of a movie that has aged so quickly. After all if it was made today Tom Hanks’ bookshop chain would be threatened by Meg Ryan’s internet Amazon like monolith.
There is after all only one totally (if you also include stationery) bookshop chain in Britain. Waterstones. In South Wales I know of one in Cardiff and the other in Swansea but none in between. There are chains where books do form an important part of the stock (W H Smith / The Works) but other than those essentially in towns across this disunited Kingdom it’s otherwise the rare small independent bookshop or a charity shop.
As an aside there is in the South East Foyles (which I’ve never liked) but the bookshop conglomerate I do miss is Borders. They really cared about books and it showed.
Now regular readers will know that I have ordered books off Amazon and that I have a Kindle and I’m not afraid to use it. But I still buy them from bricks and mortar places as well. No matter what the internet can do nothing beats the thrill of discovering something that has perked your interests from the shelves.
I won’t say what I’m going to say next I’ve really thought through but it struck me yesterday that (ebooks aside) the main enemy of the small independent bookshop are not online retailers. Because if you’re after a specific not easily obtainable tome then the internet is probably where you would go to anyway.
No. The main enemy of the small independent bookstores are the supermarkets.
Books occupy a relatively small space in a supermarket. But they will stock those that they know will sell and will use their purchasing power as large chains to be able to offer these books at discounted prices. Something the independent would not be able to do. As a consequence the small independent retailer would have less chance to attract what was used to be described as “passing trade” for an impulse buy.
So here’s an idea………ban supermarkets from selling books.
We’re obviously talking here about towns where there is an independent bookshop but why not? After all competition would still exist from W H Smith and The Works as well as of course online. Also supermarkets could easily fill the space with something else. I suspect that as a gift aside most people don’t go into Tesco and the like specifically to buy a book. So you know what? I don’t think that shoppers – readers or otherwise -would otherwise care if they disappeared from the aisles.
Perhaps, perhaps just perhaps, you would create a generation of readers who whilst still purchasing online would also experience the wonder and love of stepping into a local bookshop.
Until the next time.