13 August 2017
I love what bookshops have become
Even though it's people like me that are to blame for more than 550 independent shops being erased from existence over the past ten years.
Not the Charing Cross Road branch of Foyles, however, with its 220,000 books spread over four miles of shelves. This flagship store, opened in 2014, is a book-lovers paradise, which is why I found myself strolling through the doors, open-mouthed with awe at 9:30 sharp on a Saturday morning.
These super-sized bookshops (Waterstones has a similarly impressive flagship on Piccadilly) are morphing into more than just somewhere to sell books; they're becoming destinations.
I remember what most bookshops were like ten years ago. They were a bit shit. It was always hard to find the book you wanted, the staff were run-of-the-mill retail assistants and most of the time you couldn't even sit on a chair to flick through a book.
Now, though, everything has changed. With the rise of Amazon it had to. I just had a quick look at the careers section of the Foyles website and you can expect the shop-floor staff to have a degree or special interest in the section in which they work. You don’t get that at Topshop, Ikea or Tesco.
So, why am I to blame for the traditional bookshop’s demise? Because I’m a devout Amazon customer. It's still easier, cheaper and more convenient to buy books online and I don't plan on changing my purchasing habits. Seth Godin talks extensively about price being the last refuge of a marketer, that if all our wants are met by both companies then we’ll end up buying the cheapest.
But the bookshops with half a brain know this, which is why they’re playing to their strengths. They're selling the experiences around the outside of the book industry such as events, book signings, talks, and stocking the kind of items where it really pays to pick it up and feel it like specialist writing pads, pens and other assorted book-related paraphernalia. I came extremely close to buying a book I wasn’t even interested in simply because it was a first edition signed by the author. They have plenty of chairs and the super knowledgeable and helpful staff don’t care if you sit down for an hour thumbing through a book from the shelves. The have cafes.
This strategy is clearly working. Folyes is in profit and looking to buck the trend and open more stores.
By becoming more of a destination these new-style bookshops are redefining an industry. I love it.