Posts Tagged ‘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?


The Bookseller of Silicon Roundabout

What Old St./Silicon roundabout improvements would you like to see?

December 7th, 2013

We have just received an update on the improvements earmarked for Old Street/Silicon roundabout concourse from TfL. They want to “repaint the floor, make all units more uniform, tidy up the walkway, have light box signage”. There will be near universal support for improving the floor, lighting and signage. Does everybody also really support TfL’s intention to make all units more uniform? It would be really helpful to hear from anyone whether shop uniformity is what would make the concourse a more attractive destination. I’ve started gathering facts with a survey, if you would kindly care to “express an opinion below or in our book shop..

Future of Old Street Roundabout and the bookshop

November 11th, 2013

I met Robin Charlesworth of TfL last Friday to hear his plans.
Short-term he is going to hand over up to 5 shop units to a letting company to administer as pop-up shops. He is bringing in the Parks Police from December to patrol. He will make changes towards unifying the image of the advertising hoardings, signage, A-boards and shop fronts. Lighting and flooring may also be uplifted. There are also unspecified plans to provide something to do with contemprorary fine arts on the surface of the roundabout ( I reminded him of the proposal to use the plinth for installations). All these changes are dependant on funding streams and parts of it are somewhat experimental and subject to change as the plans evolve.
The medium-term plans are in respect of the de-insularisation of the roundabout and largely concern the changes to the roads at the surface. These are currently being negotiated by TfL, Hackney and Islington boroughs and the Highways Agency. Robin does not have anything to do with this phase apart from if any of the underground parts require structural strengthening to support the new roads above. Any disruption to the underground or to the shops will be kept to a minimum and should not involve any longer-term impact.
The long-term plans reflect the fact that Old Street is third highest priority for TfL to redevelop in order to manage the ratio of space available to a significant increase in passenger use at the station. This will involve the station and the shops closing and being completely rebuilt from the tracks upwards at a cost of hundreds of millions of pounds. As such this is not likey to happen for many years to come and it is likely to be a major project that is discussed at all levels over the forthcoming years, with a possible starting date as late as 2021 or later.
The bookshop will be remaining in situ to provide for all its valued customers as long as possible. We are in the course of negotiating another six year lease presently.
Please correct me if I have misunderstood or misrepresented any of TfL’s plans.