In February last year (although in many respects it feels like a lot longer ago), I had the opportunity to go to a couple of events organised by one of the few remaining independent book shops in Nottinghamshire – The Book Case in Lowdham. The first event saw Ann Cleeves and Chris Ewan put in an appearance. The second was one of the Orenda Roadshow stops – and I wrote about that shortly after going.
Independent book shops become increasingly hard to support. The rise of the eBook is part of the reason (and I’m probably as guilty as any on that front), but so too is the effect of massive discounts offered to major retailers, especially the supermarkets. It makes it hard for the independents to compete on price, and the fact that so many have gone from our high streets in recent years also makes it harder to find them.
Hosting events where readers can see and meet authors can make a big difference to the attractiveness and viability of these shops. My own involvement with The Book Case has been limited so far, but that’s because it’s about 40 minutes’ drive away – and it’s still the nearest one to where I live.
The pandemic has undoubtedly added to the challenge. Although I have no evidence to back this up, it seems likely that, like many other small businesses, indies will have suffered more than the larger retailers. With online shopping increasing, Amazon benefited, but so too will the supermarkets. As there were periods when these were one of the few places you could physically go to shop, their sales of everything – including books – rocketed.
Readers (and authors) need to support indies. They do so much more than the supermarkets or Amazon.
Can you imagine a book signing happening in your local ASDA or Tesco? And which of those retailers are going to offer up an audience for small publishers like Orenda?
A week or so ago, Newark Book Festival took place. Thanks to a holiday booked a year earlier, I was unable to go. I did enjoy the holiday, but if I could have moved it a bit, I’d have loved to spend a day or so in Newark soaking up the atmosphere and spending time with readers and authors. Next year’s event will go in the diary as soon as it’s announced.
The reason I mention it here is because The Book Case was listed as the festival bookseller. Not only that but – until Covid interrupted – they’d held their own festival for the previous twenty years. I’m hoping they’ll do it again as the restrictions ease.
Clearly, I’m singling out one specific shop here, but up and down the country there are other indies doing similar things. They offer extra value, over and above plonking a book on a shelf and offering it at a hugely discounted rate. For the reader, there is an advantage in having access to cheap books. But there’s a price to pay for that.
The range of books available in your local supermarket is a tiny fraction of the number of published books. If they don’t have a book you want in stock, you can’t order one. They’re not geared up for that. And they’re not going to support any local literary event or organise for authors to come in and talk to readers.
Amazon do have the range. And they have the ability to get a book to you without you making an effort to leave the house. But, again, are they interested in cultivating wider reading experiences in your locale?
Among the larger independents are Waterstones and WHSmith, but both have experienced financial difficulties in recent years. Smiths have already cut their branch network. Waterstones seem to have adapted to changes in the markets, but you can’t ignore the fact they’re largely owned by a hedge fund manager. It’s hard to imagine a hedge fund manager is going to be looking at much other than the bottom line.
So, small indies are vital to readers and authors alike. They are the ones interested in arranging events and offering choice. If you want these, support the indie in whatever way you can.