One of the ways in which bookshops can fight back against online retailers is to give the customer something more than just the book itself.
By Alexander McCall Smith
Some years ago I went into a house without books. It was in the Cayman Islands, and it was not an inexpensive place – a modernist cube right on the shore, with white carpets throughout to match the white of the beach that made the front garden. Large windows, wall size, looked out over an almost clichéd Caribbean view: turquoise ocean, a reef, sea-grape trees. But no books; wherever I looked, there were no books.
If it is bad enough going into a house with no books, how much worse is it to arrive in a town with no bookshop. That experience, unfortunately, has become quite common these days.
If books are part of the soul of any house, then bookshops are the equivalent for a town. A High Street without a bookshop is a street given over to the purely material needs of shoppers – food, clothing, hardware: there is nothing for the soul.
Of course, economics has little time for all this. Bookshops exist because people want to buy books in them, and if they do not want to buy them there, then bookshops will close. Economics ultimately pays scant attention to cultural claims.
The owners of bookshops understand this only too well. For them, one of the most threatening developments of the recent past – and which saw the closure of 400 bookshops last year – has been the rise of online shopping. It is just too easy – and who can say they have resisted the temptation – to press a button and have a book drop through the letter-box the next morning. And if it is pointed out to us that buying books this way will bring bricks and mortar shops to their knees, we may say: “Yes, but the convenience…”
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