Archive for the ‘World publishers’ category

In France the state helps indie bookshops. In the UK it helps them out of business.

July 23rd, 2014

In France new laws have been passed to materially support independent bookshops, because bookshops are considered in France to be of cultural importance.

My bookshop in Old Street station in London has been in business for thirty years. But TfL, a state enterprise, have defied my pleas and given a six month lease to Moleskine in a shop virtually facing my own. Moleskine sell blank books and our bookshop has built up a significant trade in Moleskine blank books.   In a typical month Moleskine sales represent about 17.5% of our turnover. So  UK state intervention is effectively threatening the survival of our bookshop.

TfL allegedly has plans to close down our Old Street Station ticket office and to lease the space out to a Click and Collect centre, which will further threaten the survival of our independent bookshop.

What do you think about TfL’s decisions in this case?

Is it right that TfL should conduct its affairs in such a bullying fashion?

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Jason’s Road trip

May 12th, 2014

I am Jason and I run a bookshop. On Thursday 8-5-2014 at about 07:56 I was bicycling to work on a route I have taken for the last 12 years. I live in Stoke Newington. I was travelling south on Whitmore Road where it becomes Pitfield Street. The light was normal but there was a slight drizzle or very light rain. As I passed the junction with Hoxton Street on my left, I noticed a car proceeding towards me very quickly. I was wearing high visibility, cycling waterproof top , black waterproof bottoms with reflective strips and a cycling helmet. It was clearly my right of way. Before I registered any danger I felt myself flying and landing on the road in excruciating pain. I howled loudly. I was spread-eagled on my front. I do not recollect losing consciousness. Opening my eyes, I saw that I had landed on a part of the pedestrian zebra crossing. I summoned all my energy to crawl or slither off the road in case another car struck me. As I was curling into the recovery position I heard someone asking if I was alright. I said “no”. I heard a voice saying “Call an ambulance”. I repeated the words “Call an ambulance”. I heard someone else saying “I am so sorry. I was rushing to take my daughter to school”. My eyes were closed. I was in agony. Minutes later someone in a green uniform said they were a passing paramedic and instructed me not to move. They went through some questions to assess my condition, which I was able to answer. Following that, the ambulance personnel took over. There was a process of maybe 15 minutes whereby I was supported into an ambulance. That was followed by a lengthy delay where a policeman asked me questions and finally supplied me with a small blue book of information about the accident. I was admitted to the casualty department of the Homerton Hospital. I spent about six or so hours undergoing constant checks and tests. I received an ultra sound and a CT scan on my abdomen. I was administered painkillers. I was advised to remain in hospital under observation for a further period of about 5 hours. I discharged myself and was taken home. I have been in constant pain since then. 48 hours later I have taken photos of my injuries. I am still in a state of shock. I have been told by the hospital consultant that my stomach muscles have been severely torn. My internal organs have been bruised and apart from that, I have suffered several skin abrasions on my face legs and hands and also further bruising. I cannot sleep without waking with pain. My lower intestines contort me in pain. I am using a walking stick, a sling, ice packs and have had a session of cranial osteopathy.

But I am now on the mend & hope to be back at work soon.

Today, I visited the book shop for an hour. It has been as if I had stepped into an alternative reality for four days and I’m now being allowed brief visits back to my old life…

Some thoughts on the Novel

February 15th, 2014

A customer recently told me that he can’t stand to read novels anymore because spending so much time reading newspapers has meant he finds it difficult to read unbroken lines.

Which got me to thinking: what have us booksellers been belly-aching about Amazon for? We’ve misdirected our ire. I’ve identified the true villains, and I’ve come up with the solution. It’s simple; I’ll just set fire to the newsagents. Or if not the newsagents then perhaps Rebekah Brooks… Hugh Grant would cheer me on. We could shoot a grisly sequel to Notting Hill.

But putting threats of arson and witch-burnings aside, there certainly has been a crisis of confidence in the novel as a form in the last 10 years. Take Philip Roth. He said in 2009 that novels will become a ‘cultic’ minority enthusiasm within 25 years, and it’s ‘the print that’s the problem, it’s the book, the object itself’. But we can take with a pinch of salt. Or better sugar. After all, can anyone remember the last time Roth said something that wasn’t unpalatably bitter?

People have written a lot about declining attention spans in the digital age and how this has created an apathetic attitude towards long form fiction. But then a lot of people have also been writing very long books, and a lot of people have been reading them. We have also been handing out awards for them – the Booker Prize for Eleanor Catton’s 832-page clobbering wedge The Luminaries being one example.

So what are we to make of this then? On the one hand we are being told by the likes of Jonathan Franzen that we are all going to be transformed into drivelling dirges able only to conceptualise narratives in terms of trending hashtags, and on the other hand we are reading and slapping prizes on books that make Middlemarch seem mercifully short. It’s very confusing.

First off I think that our tendency towards these long novels goes some way to put paid to Roth’s criticism of the book as an object. The physical size of these books shows that we are not as concerned with their obtrusiveness as much as has been thought.

Secondly I think the way that our television viewing habits have changed provide an illuminating analogy when it comes to thinking about our attention spans. American drama series that focus on one continuous narrative, stretched over 5 or six series, each with at least 12 hour long episodes have become more and more popular. Not only that, but instead of being released serially, entertainment companies such as Netflix are releasing these shows to viewers all at once (the second series of House of Cards which was released yesterday being a fine example). These shows are far more like novels than films, in their structure and their scope. And our hunger for them shows that we haven’t lost interest in the big stories and big characters that only a novel can tell and bring to life.

The schizophrenic tendency that Franzen has identified certainly applies to the way that we communicate with one another, which is becoming more and more telegraphic. But it’s not the death knell for the novel. Something will get it in the end, but it’s not going to be twitter. There’s appetite for stories yet.

SF

The Bookseller of Silicon Roundabout

A Man With a Button

February 10th, 2014

The tall man’s goatee beard that was tied in knots reminding me of boyhood images of Blackbeard. He was in his later middle-age and wore a hipster tweed suit that struck me as somewhat incongruous. His softly spoken brogue and complimentary good manners together with his broad range of highly literate book purchases piqued my interest and respect.

When this customer gave me his cue, I was ready to engage with him. Though I really couldn’t have guessed where this was going…

He asked me to direct him to the nearby Google campus and I gave him directions; but I’d been slow to realize that he was teeing me up for a revelation.

“I am the inventor” of the button that will bring the smell of books to all future e-readers,  he explained; and,  when my mouth dropped open, he went on,  ”I am a perfumer”.

He proceeded to sing the praises of the smell of the books in Trinity College Library, Dublin; “an olfactory delight”, was his measured appraisal.

I was part spellbound by his enthusiasm, part amazed by his eccentricity, but wholly amazed that he truly foresaw a future for his book smell button.

It’s true that I had once come across an antiquarian bookseller who regularly put his beaky nose deep into the pages of any antiquarian book he was considering buying to inhale the book’s past and to inform his appraisal.

But I was finding it  almost impossible to separate the crazy notion of book sniffing from the real craze of sniffing glue, conflating  them in my mind into people buying e-readers for their addictive fix of the smell of old books.

On innumerable occasions customers have complimented me on the smell of the bookshop – it had somehow reinforced the authenticity of the place to them.  This man’s smell button was purporting to somehow reinforce the authenticity of an e-reader.

Whereas our bookshop smell genuinely arises from the mixture of new and antiquarian books, the book smell button is as artificial as is the quest to copy all the various aspects of the book using digital, electronic or mechanical means.

They are two separate artifacts. Is there any point conflating them?

The Bookseller of Silicon Roundabout

Inauguration Stations

February 5th, 2014

Hello Hello Hello! Hello. We are the Bookseller of Silicon Roundabout and we would like to welcome you to our new-look blog.

We’ve been selling books in Old Street Roundabout for thirteen years and we figured, with the arrival of this most auspicious of anniversaries, that it was time to create a place to talk about it. So here we have it: a soapbox for a material girl in a digital world.

At the beginning of last week the Standard broke the news that the area around Old Street Roundabout (or ‘Tech City’, as it is snazzily styled) has become the place for tech start-ups to locate themselves. One interviewee said: “There’s a great energy in London’s start-up scene. It’s still proving itself.”

I mean, isn’t this just a really astonishing piece of news? Tech companies in Silicon Roundabout? It’s dynamite!

This story could have been written on any year for the last decade so, apparently, nothing has changed. Old Street is still the up and coming place for the up and coming. But then, they do keep coming – and this high turnover of businesses and the people that work in them has put the shop in contact with an ever shifting population of workers. It’s given us a window onto these different people’s changing book-buying habits.

First off, we’ve seen the decline of technical books. Since the beginning it’s been our policy not to stock software how-to manuals and such the like as they grow obsolete so quickly, but we have always offered a service ordering specific books that our customers need. As the years have gone on the number of these requests has steadily declined, to the point that now we can go weeks on end without any enquires about technical books at all.

On the flip side of this decline, we have seen a steady increase in sales of science fiction. What is interesting is that our past experience has shown that technical books and science fiction have often gone together – customers with an interest in one would frequently have an interest in the other.

What this suggests to me is that, whilst our customers are looking less and less to print to learn how to do specific things, they are turning to books more often as a form of escape. Several customers who spend their workdays sat at computers have told me that when they get home they want a way to relax which doesn’t involve looking at a screen.

It has always been the job of speculative fiction to look forwards: to imagine, for better or for worse, what will come next. For most of us, the future will mean more time spent at a computer. And as the amount of time that we’re plugged-in steadily increases, the existence of books as a means of respite – as an access to the thrilling sensation of  complete immersion in one’s own imagination – will become more important than ever.

But then, we would say that.

What do you think?

SF

The Bookseller of Silicon Roundabout

Nobel Defeat

October 14th, 2013

Once again, American poet John Ashbery has missed out on the Nobel Prize for Literature.

It cannot be said that this has come as a complete surprise. On the morning of the announcment the Telegraph published a list of the top 10 ‘runners and riders’ which featured three Americans – none of whom were John Ashbery.

His name is, however, one that is bandied about every year in lists of possible recipients of the prize and he is the frequent recipient of epithets such as ‘most important living American poet’ and ‘best poet of the late 20th century’. All of which he has earned and deserves and so, to fly in the face of the Nobel committee, I would like to offer some reasons why we could all do with a little more Ashbery in our lives.

He is the antidote to the criticism, made in 2008 by the permanent secretary to the Nobel jury Horace Engdahl that American writers ‘don’t really participate in the big dialogue of literature’. Though at times obtuse, Ashbery’s work is always inclusive, and it certainly never shies away from the big ideas. Take this opening sentence from ‘Spring Day’, a poem from Ashbery’s 1970 collection The Double Dream of Spring.

 

The immense hope, and forbearance
Trailing out of night, to sidewalks of the day
Like air breathed into a paper city, exhaled
As night returns bringing doubts

That swarm around the sleeper’s head
But are fenced off with clubs and knives, so that morning
Installs again in cold hope
The air that was yesterday, is what you are,

In so many phases the head slips from the hand. […]

 

The first thing you notice is non-linearity; the sentence trails through two nights to end up at yesterday. But it is the combination of this dream-time with a poised uncertainty of address which is striking. An addressee seems to be located with ‘is what you are’, but when you read it back once more this addressee dissolves as you realise it was merely ‘the air that was yesterday’. Just as in a dream, as a reader of Ashbery you are not always sure where you are, who you are and how much time has passed. It is very liberating.

In an interview once Ashbery said that ‘you should try to make your poetry as representative as possible’ which suggests to me a drive towards democratic inclusiveness. This is borne out by the poem which, instead of describing one dream, gives us the experience of dreaming. It allows you as the reader to be the dreamer. This experience of dreaming was one that fascinated Freud, inspired Breton and the surrealists and continues to influence and inform important writers such as Murakami today. So if Ashbery isn’t ‘participating in the big dialogue of literature,’ then perhaps it’s time to change the conversation.

SF

Marriage of Convenience

October 7th, 2013

In an interview this weekend for the Guardian, Managing Director of Waterstones James Daunt discussed his decision to stock the Amazon Kindle in stores across the country.

The decision came as part of a dramatic overhaul that Daunt has been carrying out at the retail chain since he was hired by the Russian billionaire Alexander Mamut, after Mamut bought Waterstones from HMW two years ago.

In reply to those that have said that stocking Kindle tablets and e-readers is like ‘inviting the fox into the henhouse’ Daunt has said that he is merely ‘giving customers what they want’. He went on to write off concerns that book-buying customers might disappear completely once they have got hold of an e-reader, convinced that the market is reaching an equilibrium and that only a small minority will abandon print books altogether.

These comments, however, fail to address the matter from which criticism has stemmed. The issue is not whether Waterstones should remained focussed on print books, but rather whether Daunt is wise to allow Amazon to set a shop-front in their stores across the country.

In an article in the Bookseller this month it was reported that Amazon ‘control 79% of the e-book market in the UK’. It is a battle that, for the moment, they have won. And so they seek to tighten their strangle-hold on the physical book industry. Their purchase of Abe Books and The Book Depository, combined with the astonishingly low prices they are able to offer by not paying tax of any kind, has meant that they have already claimed great swathes of the book-buying public. Now, it seems, Daunt is determined to funnel those customers still dedicated to buying from the high street into Amazon’s ever-widening maw.

Once customers have bought a Kindle from Waterstones will they not be tempted to do all their shopping in one click, bundling their ebook and print books into the same basket? It is certainly true that – as Daunt mentions – many readers retain a strong tactile relationship to books. But are they going to continue to return to high street for them if they are being led by the hand from the stores that they frequent?

In the short run, it makes a lot of sense; Waterstones will make more money. But in the background Jeff Bezos will be lurking, keeping an eye on his enormous clock and rubbing his hands together with glee.

SF

Help Save Independent Bookshops

September 4th, 2011

There’s plenty of bookshops that have had to close down – there always have been. But, in the past, the reasons were retirement or increases in rent and rates. Nowadays there are three extra death blows to bookshops: Ereaders, supermarkets and Amazon . So devastating is the combination of these pressures that independent bookshops have ben forced to close but even colossal bookshop chains like Borders have collapsed and disappeared.
In France the government lauds independents:
their minister for culture is legislating for booksellers’ social charges to be cut and for a state mediator to be appointed to help them cope with digitisation.
You can help save independent bookshops in the UK by asking for the debate to take place in our country: do we want to save independent bookshops and are we prepared to legislate to support their survival?
We can lobby groups like 38 degrees http://38degrees.uservoice.com/forums/78585-campaign-suggestions asking them to push the survival of independent bookshops higher up the agenda.
Save independent bookshops and legislate to support their survival.
Bookshops are a small but significant plank of cultural life in UK. Ereaders, internet and supermarkets are forcing good independent bookshops out of business. Unless the government rules a cut in charges for bookshops, our country can look forward to a future without any bookshops left.