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.