Careful observers will have seen some additions to the group pictured at the right of your screen. Welcome to Cindy Chow, who will be sharing the librarians’ point of view with Jessy on Sundays, and to Cathy Genna, who will be offering another bookseller’s perspective every other Saturday. I will let Cathy introduce herself in her first post; we are negotiating that date, as retail bookselling is a bit crazy and exhausting at this time of year (Thank Goodness!). I look forward to sharing this space with her and making a new friend.
Speaking of selling books in real bookstores – Shelf Awareness led me to a piece in The Spectator magazine which brightens up an already happy season for those of us struggling to keep the traditions going. Long Live Bookshops! by Emily Rhodes uses the opening of a luxury bookshop on Piccadilly in London to highlight the luxuriousness of all physical books. Rhodes points out that the beautifully bound coffee-table tome has always been perceived as a luxury, with a price to match. She goes on to say that now that electronic books have brought lower prices, the ordinary paperbound book has taken on an aspect of luxury. She claims that publishers have helped this perception by boosting production quality and adding “extras” to the printed volume to entice readers to the more expensive format with value added.
More interesting than the market-driven effort to distinguish the designer handbag from the chain store knock-off are Rhodes’ words about print itself as a luxury. She points to a study (unreferenced, but I hope it’s true) showing that 68% of 15-to-25-year-olds prefer reading print. My own experience leads me to believe this number; this demographic is a large proportion of my business, and I am constantly informed that there is nothing like a printed book for them. Rhodes says: “This indicates the pleasure to be found in a book as an object: the enjoyment of holding the thing, looking at the cover, turning the pages. This is choosing tactility and aesthetic over price and convenience. It is choosing the luxury of print.”
The luxury of the printed book can be enhanced by the way in which it is bought, according to Rhodes, with whom I am obviously in perfect agreement. She contrasts the mechanical purchase on-line or in a megastore where discounts and coupons are the main selling tools to “places where you are greeted by a real person, where the air is thick with the dusty smell particular to books, the hushed enthusiasm of conversations which meander delightfully…and the thrill of discovery.”
The limited space of the independent bookshop means curtailing the unlimited choices available on-line. It also means that you are likely to run across (or have recommended to you) a book you never knew existed and which is perfect for you. Rhodes expounds on the need for smaller stores to curate their collections and the resulting knowledge about the items in stock and attentiveness of the staff. I would add that much of the curating is based on listening to customers’ opinions, likes and dislikes, and requests rather than on marketing efforts by publishers. We hear you! And if we don’t have what you want, we can almost always get it for you.
So this holiday season, indulge your loved ones in the luxury of a printed book, and indulge yourself in the luxury of a real bookshop!