18 September 2009

Bookstore blues, Or, Why the chain bookstores deserve everything they get

Recently I discovered Elizabeth Taylor, the writer. (Also here, for more information.) For anyone who has not read her I whole-heartedly recommend "A View of the Harbour" (pictured below). But don't expect to find her books in a bookstore: this morning I went to the two English bookstores in town, Waterstones and Sterling Books, and neither of them had a single copy of any of her works. Not even one of the recently re-released Viragos, with introductions by authors like Sarah Waters, and blurbs by Jilly Cooper and Elizabeth Jane Howard. Oh, they had plenty of crap: piles of Anita Shreves and Jodi Picoults. You'd have thought they'd have had at least one ET novel -- or acclaimed short story collection -- just to prove to themselves that they could still be called a bookstore. But I've come to the conclusion that they might as well be subsumed by supermarket chains or keep to airports if this is the best they can do. I never thought I'd say "thank god for Amazon" but that is exactly what I'm saying today. ALL of ET's books are available there, to be dispatched at a moment's notice, and this, my friends, is why bookstores, as we used to know and love them, will die and are not worth saving: you can get what you need or want elsewhere and faster and cheaper. The stores we still call bookstores today give no added value. Second-hand shops are different and I predict these will survive. But the others are using some kind of business model that requires stocking up on best-sellers and ignoring the rest of their clients.


  1. looked through our county library system and can't find Taylor....but I do like Anita Shreve!!!! :-)

    I love Amazon too. Books can be so cheap. Love that and Scholastic for the kids!

  2. Hi Patti... I know, I'm a book snob.... I read one or two Shreves that were OK, one about a woman who liked sea glass and the other about a pilot with a double life. But then I read another one that was just dire and haven't read any others.

    Re Taylor in your library: sometimes there's an amazing gap between who gets read in the UK and who gets read in the US.

    The other fun thing about Amazon is following its progress. My order has been dispatched and I should get a slip in my mailbox from the Belgian post early this week : )