When I heard the news that Horatio’s, Ampthill’s independent bookshop, was closing at the end of March I felt as if a friend had died. I have happy memories of my first ever book signing event when I was made so welcome by the proprietors, friends and strangers alike; a wonderfully protective environment for my initial meeting of the public.
I went in to talk to Rob this Saturday and the place was buzzing with people, a far cry from recent visits when we’d have a long natter about the publishing world, book selling, e books and e commerce. Rob explained that he’d given the place three years to prove that it could be viable, including evenings of book ordering, planning and family discussion of ideas to improve the store; every Saturday and for a while Sunday at the shop on top of a full time job elsewhere. You see it was very much a family venture and I admire each member for their enthusiasm to make the project work.
Is this a sign of the end of the independent bookshop?
Are we, the public to blame?
Do we treasure our local shops and facilities or do we take them for granted?
Is the end of the paperback book in sight as the e revolution grows and grows?
After posing these questions I thought of the significant events of the last three years which have a bearing on the argument.
• We have experienced a recession and yet Waitrose car park is still full to overflowing most Saturdays. How many of those shoppers think of the interesting and varied shops a few minutes from the car park, or do we all too often walk past quickly on our way to the bank machine, chemist or Post Office?
• Kindle has been launched on the world. I still have my gift of a Kindle sitting here unused. We have no Wi Fi you see, and so I cannot use it. Is it 20% of the book market now through e books? That still leaves a large market for the real thing doesn’t it? Would you like an ebook for a birthday present? Would you treasure those ebooks you love in the same way you see the books on your bookshelves – memories of a moment in your history?
• Was the demise of Borders a sign of things to come? I still believe that there is a place in the world for bookshops to browse and choose books with relish, savouring the moments of being surrounded by a world of literacy and information. Nevertheless the internet has certainly revolutionised the way we shop. It is excellent to browse what there is on offer; to make choices in the comfort of your own home. If you’ve read two books in a series and you want to start the next, it is certainly great to click a few buttons and it’s on your doorstep within a day or so, (or instantly as an e book for those of you already switched on) but can you make the same judgement about a book unknown to you or do you rely on reviews?
I would like to say a big thank you to Rob and all his family for giving up their time for the people Ampthill, Maulden, Flitwick and surrounding villages and for adding such a special place to Amptill over the past few years. A bookshop is not just a business it is a service to the community.
My next blog will be about why I think real books will survive but the message to all of you in towns and villages around the country if you have a local store, bookshops or otherwise:
IF YOU DON’T USE IT YOU’LL LOSE IT!
And I’m ashamed to say that, to our cost, we have!