Death of a Bookstore

Our bookstore in the town shopping centre was busier than usual but soon the shelves will be empty and the doors shut. Like other bookstores, it’s closing; a victim of the perfect storm of a faltering economy, changing consumer habits, the buying power of big business and the introduction of new technology.

Maher the Independent Bookseller has been open since 1995; not quite a generation but long enough for people to mourn its passing. Neither a chain nor a small book store and with no significant online presence, Maher never quite developed a distinct identity and like an elderly relative in ill-health, its demise was not been totally unexpected but still a slight shock when it happened.

The store faced stiff competition on an number of fronts. Attacked on one hand by cheaper prices by Amazon and the ‘pile it high, sell it cheap’ approach of W H Smith and Tesco flogging classic literature from Katie Price and X Factor contestants; Maher needed to be the store of choice for a more discerning reader, a place where people went to discover something new and come away with a few impulse purchases.

Maher had the odd author signing, mainly football related, but although a pleasant environment, a good stock of books and helpful (if not particularly knowledgable) staff, it was not enough to differentiate itself in an increasingly difficult market environment and an era where instant gratification and convenience can now be satisfied through the Kindle.

Hanging out in bookstores and record stores always had a great attraction for me. My friends comment often on my broad musical tastes and most of it came from browsing in record stores listening to whatever the staff were playing or in store listening stations. My love of books came from picking them up and reading a chapter (one of the many advantages of speed reading) before making a purchase.

Few towns now have a dedicated record store and I expect a similar fate awaits the bookstore. I find this sad but at the same time, I have contributed to their decline. The convenience of Amazon and the Kindle along with my subconscious switch from making my own purchasing decisions to following the recommendations of writers and book lovers on Twitter have all reduced my visits to bookstores. Does it matter? Of course it does. Where will new authors promote their novels? Where will kids celebrate the next Harry Potter when it comes? How will we discover something unexpected and broaden our reading tastes?

Each purchaser exchanges a few words with the staff expressing their condolences. They know they’re losing something too, a part of the community. The staff put on a brave face but it’s all a bit too little too late. I hand over a pile of books looking a bit sheepish. I bought a copy of ‘Room’ by Emma Donoghue. I’ve already read it on Kindle but it left a lasting impression and I wanted a physical copy. It seemed an appropriate if inadequate gesture to mark the occasion.

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About Peter Domican
Marketer and change professional. Writer and photographer.

One Response to Death of a Bookstore

  1. Andy Carr says:

    A sad but true view of the impact on global markets and retailer dominance!

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