The Crime Readers' Association

Leigh and Lee childFocus on: Independent Bookshops

13th July 2014

Leigh Russell Shares her Thoughts on Indie Bookshops

Is it coincidence, or inevitable in the current zeitgeist, that just before reading a request on the CRA website for “posts about independent booksellers and publishers” I saw that my local independent bookshop is closing. This is the reason they give: “Sadly, fast developing technology, changing buying habits and the domination of a few major retailers are ending the era of the independent bookshop. The local community had been displaced by the global community and has disempowered the High Street, and with it smaller ventures like our own.”

I live in North West London. It’s not what you might call a cultural desert. When I moved here (OK, it was twenty years ago) there were two local bookshops, in addition to the library. Within a couple of weeks there will be no bookshops at all. We have a WH Smith still flying the flag for books, but they offer a limited choice. I was recently told by a manager of a WH Smith Travel store that they can only stock my latest title, as they only sell the books that are in their bestseller charts. (Yes, you can work out the flaw in that logic too.)

There are multiple responses to the demise of the indie bookshop. For the first time since records started, we had fewer than 1,000 independent bookshops six months ago, and the number has continued to reduce since then. I don’t have an up-to-date figure, but it’s not going to be an upward trend. To some extent this is one of many ramifications of a society increasingly dependent on the internet. It is a symptom of changing buying habits, reflected across our dying High Streets.

Are people reading less? Well, maybe not. In fact, it is reasonable to argue that ebooks make books far easier and cheaper to access, encouraging reading. So as long as authors are writing, and people are reading, does the disappearance of the physical bookstore matter? Of course it matters to the ‘middleman’ – the traditional publisher, with their teams of editors, proof readers, jacket designers, publicists, it matters to booksellers and distributors, and librarians.

But what difference can it make to readers? Well, possibly quite a lot.

I remember the excitement I felt on first entering a public library. I wanted to read every book in sight. The experience of looking at a screen isn’t the same. You can’t see walls of books with one sweep of your eyes, books you can reach out and touch, flick through, replace, against a background of books, books, and more books.

I worry that if too few people buy physical books, they will cease to be financially viable to produce, and my children’s children will never experience that visceral excitement of wanting to read every book they can see.

Is this merely nostalgia, or are we losing something that helps to make human life precious?


Leigh Russell writes the Geraldine Steel and the Ian Peterson series

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