…without a bookstore

“…a town isn’t a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it’s got a bookstore, it knows it’s not foolin’ a soul.”
– Neil Gaiman in American Gods (2001)

A few days ago here in UK, a story was going around in the media about a second-hand bookshop in Hampshire whose sales were in such decline that, for the first time in around one hundred years, there came a day on which they sold no books at all. This despite a 25% January sale. Luckily for the family-run Petersfield Bookshop, the tweet they’d sent describing their ‘miserable’ plight was retweeted by author Neil Gaiman (he of the above quote), a message which went viral and helped to create a large boost in the business’s online orders.

I hope they continue to do well, at a time when book shops (and also, due to insufficient government funding in UK, lending libraries) are closing at a great rate, particularly independents (I have seen figures that around two bookshops close each week here).

The above story reminded me of a recent article I read by writer and humourist David Sedaris (during a rare glossy magazine binge at the hairdresser’s) about the risk the ‘rise in e-commerce’ and online shopping present to high street commerce, particularly to the independent outlets. Especially invidious are those “customers” who go into a high-street shop to check out goods, riffle through pages and try on clothes and shoes, only to then order them online at a cheaper price. Some of these people are entirely brazen about it. As Sedaris notes: ‘Go into a bookstore nowadays and all you see is people taking photos of things they’ll order on Amazon, now that they’ve skimmed the first paragraph or felt the novel’s weight in their hands.’

Now, this isn’t a practice I myself engage in—if I am in a shop, it’s with every intention of making a purchase. BUT, to be honest, I rarely go into bookstores any more. It tends to be something I’ll do on holiday, on a weekend or week away, a pleasurable part of a leisurely stroll down a charming and / or historic high street in a town some distance from my own. All bound up (pun possibly intended) with having time to browse, to pick and choose, appreciate that delicious new book smell of ink and expectation.

On any usual day, however, I’ll be ordering my reading matter online, often a straight download onto the Kindle. So, yes. My outward behaviour may be a little more civil, but I am very much part of the wider problem.

In truth, I am not going totally to drop my online shopping habits. Apart from bookshops and perusing local markets, if and when I have the luxury of time, I dislike most forms of shopping. I will make a pledge to improve though.

Independent Bookstore Day is on the last Saturday in April – so on 25 April this year. But we don’t have to wait until then to support our nearest independent bookshop.

If you live in UK, the Booksellers Association has a bookshop search on its website here that you can use to locate your nearest outlet. I am in a semi-rural area but found that I have nine bookshops within a ten-mile radius—had no idea there was so much choice.

Let’s use them before we lose them.


David Sedaris, ‘David Sedaris Has No Patience With Your Online Shopping Habit’ in Vogue UK, December 2019. https://www.vogue.co.uk/arts-and-lifestyle/article/david-sedaris-on-shopping 

Booksellers Association bookshop search http://www.booksellers.org.uk/bookshopsearch
Go here to add a hyperlink to your webpage: https://www.booksellers.org.uk/industryinfo/industryinfo/findyourlocalbookshop

Photos by Roman Kraft on Kevin Lee on Unsplash




18 thoughts on “…without a bookstore

  1. Me too–about ordering online. I don’t know what to tell indie bookstores–or chains–about how to save their business. Times have changed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I guess, arguably, there is no room for sentiment in business. I wander our nearest high street and wonder how any small business survive. Like the bookshops mentioned here, most have an online presence as well as the physical store.


  2. I spend approx 30% of my day on-line and a great deal of my reading is also done on-line. But when I really want to kick-back and enjoy a book – it’s on paper. Not only is it more comfortable on the eyes, but I also get the reassured sense that, if edits occurred between the time published and the time I read it – they’ll be visible (as in pen-scratched onto the page) – whereas on-line edits can easily occur at any time without a mark left behind for the author or the reader to be aware of.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I know what you mean. To truly, sensually, enter the reading experience, it’s still about paper. Personally, I find myself skimming through downloaded books – I tend to reserve it for the quick, the ‘fast food’ reads, on my commute. For the books and authors to savour, it’s paper.


  3. I’ve noticed that Amazon retailed books are pretty close in price to (High Street) book shop prices……… online ain’t necessarily any cheaper, amd Oxford as you might imagine is lucky, there are still quite a few bookshops. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Interesting observation – I think that’s true of the big-name authors: they’re not necessarily cheaper via Amazon, particularly when a work is newly published. When the last bookshop in Oxford, or any university town closes, we know it’s game over!


  4. Yes, I’ve had my Kindle for nearly seven years now; I didn’t download 3000 free classics, but I do buy most of my reading on it, but I guess a lot of the Indie Authors I read wouldn’t have paper editions in the book shops.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good point. Whilst I tend to buy physical copies of authors and books I most admire and / or look forward to reading, without the Kindle, there’d be a lot of indies we would miss out on.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. An excellent article. The Petersfield Bookshop rescue is encouraging. The idea of just looking then ordering on line is atrocious

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree. Browsing a bookshop is a pleasure, as is leaving with a crackling paper bag containing a book or books. Not something I’d want my children to miss out on either. Not to mention the insult to the shop owner of using their business as a 3D catalogue then to order elsewhere.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That last paragraph is so right


  6. Guilty. Though, being blind, it’s not like I’m going to buy a paperback anyway. But I get your point. On another matter, I believe in the not so far future, kids will stop using pen and paper too, considering most schools are using tablets. The paperless view is a great one, but…. there’s something sad about watching the world of technology swallowing the good and the bad.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good point – online books must have opened up the options enormously and for many people with audio options. As to losing the art of pen and paper – my own handwriting, never great, is increasingly atrocious!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. This post is thought-provoking. While I still stick pretty religiously to physical books (no Kindle here), I still buy the majority of my reading material on Amazon. The indie stores I visit just don’t have the selection, and with next-day and same-day delivery available on a lot of items, it, sadly, doesn’t make sense to go out and buy them elsewhere.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Same for me. My purchases at physical bookshops are relatively few. And yes, whilst most have an online presence and will give the option of ordering, sadly, my greed for fast gratification overtakes!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you for your post. The behaviour you describe is very typical. A few years ago, the UK was world champion in on-line car buying. Cars! But yes, they went to the agency first, took a test drive, then ordered on-line.
    And independent bookstores? Amazon is killing them, yet, I realized last year as I made my first book purchase on Amazon, that they actually collected half my books in independent bookstores in Michigan, New Hampshire, what have you… So they’re killing them, yet they don’t store the books, and let the bookstores do it…


  9. guilty as well… its more simple to get book online on kindle or order paperback. I prefer paperback if I need to do research tho, I don’t know why.

    the problem is ‘there’ and I feel it will be worse, especially with a new generation coming up


  10. Lovely ideas and I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article and I am hoping the same best work from you in the same best work from you in the future as well.


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