Thursday, 22 August 2013

Who to blame when a bookshop bites the dust? - by Nicola Morgan

The sad news came last week of the closure of The Lion and Unicorn bookshop in Richmond. I'll pause for a few moments while you go and read the story behind this closure.

*hums a gloomy tune*

So, the reasons are not complicated: higher costs, caused by rising rates, rents and wages, against falling income, caused in large part, says the article, by Amazon.

I'm no apologist for Amazon, which regularly behaves in a way I detest, but in this case Amazon merely offers temptation and opportunity and they have the right to do both. Temptation and opportunity to satisfy our impatience and desires at the click of a finger and often (though by no means always) very cheaply.

It's people who succumb to that temptation. It's the people who could have bought a book from the Lion and Unicorn (or whichever bookshop we are talking about at the time) but bought from Amazon instead. And ditto with other bookshops.

I'm not trying to guilt-trip anyone here. We're all busy; we all want lovely books and we want them effortlessly. We all love a bargain and we don't want to pay more than necessary for something, which is understandable, thrifty. (Though let's not forget libraries as being the way of getting a book in the cheapest way possible.)

But there are consequences to our buying choices. We have to consider that the death of bookshops (or other businesses) may be one of them. And we have to think about whether there are actions we can take which will have better consequences.

It's just too easy to blame Amazon only. It's a cop-out. Amazon flutters its come-hither prices at us and gets us drunk with its seductive service. But we do not have to be seduced.


Nicola Morgan blogs and speaks about writing, reading, publishing, the reading brain, teenage brain, learning brain, and shoes. She also has an online shop which sells signed (only) books and exclusive tea-towels. She offers excellent customer service and pays her taxes scrupulously.


Adam Guillain said...

Just posting a picture of our lovely Woodstock bookshop on the wall right above my computer with the reminder: IT'S A 5 MIN WALK. DO NOT BE TEMPTED. Thanks for the article. Must do better.

Stroppy Author said...

Hear, hear, Nicola. I stopped buying books from Amazon around two years ago, except for second-hand, out-of-print books I can't find elsewhere. It has not made my life remotely difficult. I buy from Blackwell's in town, where there are lovely expert staff if needed, and from Foyles online in Blackwell's don't have what I need/want or if I'm not going into town for a while. It's really not at all hard, and buying from Foyles does - I presume - help support their brick-and-mortar shops. At least, it must support them more than buying from Amazon would!

And I don't have Amazon links on my website. I suspect people who see a book there they would like will still buy it from Amazon, but I'm not going to push them through the door!

michelle lovric said...

I understand European law is changing soon so that Amazon will not be able to invoice for e books from Luxembourg, where they pay 6 percent vat, but will have to invoice from the country of the sale and pay the rate applicable.

a very sad bookshop tale this week is that of Tales on Moon Lane in London which suffered a serious flood that resulted from a burst water main. They are doing everything to get back up, but a flood in a bookshop worse than six bulls in a china shop. I know those of you who have worked with Tamara Macfarlane and George Hanratty will wish them the best.

catdownunder said...

I have to confess to using the Book Depository on occasion - for the simple reason that I can get a book I need (not just want) in a matter of days and the local indie (which I love) has to wait months sometimes. It's not their fault (apart from the fact that they only put in all orders at the end of the week) because our crazy Australian system involves going through multiple steps. At least UK shops can order direct from something like Gardner's!

bookwitch said...

You need to keep in mind that the local indie (in the places that have them) is sometimes not a nice place to shop at all. I know I shouldn't say this, but I have to. And I understand from others that it's not just 'mine' that is like that.
Amazon, and the alternatives I now try to use online, saves me not only money (good thing for someone with less income even than authors) but my sanity.

Nicola Morgan said...

Bookwitch, did you follow the link which says that Amazon is by no means always the cheapest? I certainly don't want to get into a conversation about who earns more or less (apart from the fact that I'm too ashamed to say how little I earn) - I simply want to point out that every buying choice has consequences and that when people blame Amazon or Tesco or whatever, they forget that it's people who make choices to shop there. Some have more choice than others, of course, but there are always choices. And I was careful not to promote guilt, simply to ask people to stop blaming Amazon and look at individual choices. Independent bookshops need to be good - I'm not suggesting we have to shop in them just because they are there. It's all about choice but the choices are wider than is sometimes suggested. Income is not a part of the argument because libraries are free and there are loads of book-swapping opportunities.

Richard said...

I would love to have a library in my home, complete with floor to ceiling shelves, full of books. But until that happens I'm limited to bookcases here and there throughout the house, and they are full to bursting, two-deep in places with more stacked on top. So to keep up with my reading habit, I have had to go digital. I tried a 3rd party reader, but there's no way to get content for it other than going through the online sellers.

If independent bookshops are going to survive, I think they will have to find some way to profit from digital books, not only sell them, but sell them online too. It should not be impossible for them to gang up and arrange the same sort of deal as Amazon and B&N.

Maybe they can set it up so I can lend a book to a friend.