Anne Sebba shares some thoughts on what independent bookstores need to do to survive:
Some bookshops are already event-happy. If they don’t have the space, they work in conjunction with a library or school. But the reality is this: those that do not exude a warm, welcoming feeling will not survive merely by making customers feel it’s their duty to support their local bookshop. To become an exciting destination, booksellers may need to offer enthusiastic sales assistants, a coffee shop on the side, a place to sit and read, book-related gifts.
I’ve been lucky to experience two of the best. Silverdell Ice Cream Parlour and Book Shop in Kirkham, Lancashire, creates bespoke ice creams. For my biography of Jennie Churchill, they came up with the most delicious Manhattan Cocktail flavoured ice cream, of which I was allowed just a tiny sample before my talk.
Mr B’s Book Emporium in Bath has devised a “Reading Spa” voucher which entitles the lucky recipient to a one-on-one book chat in their sumptuous Bibliotherapy Room with an adviser over tea or coffee and slice of delicious cake. Your bibliotherapist will introduce you to a tower of books specially selected to suit your reading tastes. How brilliantly inventive is that!
Publishers can help by emphasising the physicality of books as beautiful objects that must be held, touched and admired in a shop by creating fabulous end papers, silk ribbon markers or even offering special personalised extras if you buy it from a bookshop. Local government can help by providing parking concessions – perhaps a scheme whereby customers who buy £20 worth of books get free parking or a free parking day?
This is really part of a wider cultural debate and I believe the habit of culture should be as much a fundamental aspect of the environment as is, for example, the country’s architectural heritage. High street bookshops, local theatres, libraries all underline the importance of books, culture and learning. We need to fight to have towns and villages with character, identity and depth which show we have an interest in the future of that world for the next generation.
But a final piece of advice for authors. When a reader approaches explaining that they won’t be buying your book today as they already have it on an e-reader, stop making them feel guilty. Feel sorry for them instead: it won’t be signed, they can’t put Post-it notes on pages they want to remember, and it won’t furnish a room.