It used to be a pleasure walking into a bookshop. I would be spoilt for choice. The number of books in my house is testimony to that.
Sadly not anymore. I walk into a bookshop and walk out depressed.
In the last five years we have lost a quarter of our independent bookshops.
They are subject to unfair competition when publishers offer their rivals massive discounts which are not available to them.
Jamie’s Great Britain, cover price £30, is on offer at Sainsbury’s at £9.99. A price that even Waterstone’s cannot match, where it is on offer at half price, ie £15.
But that is not the only problem. It is as though they have given up. Maybe they have.
A couple of weeks ago I visited One Tree Books in Petersfield, Independent Bookshop of the Year 2010, official bookseller Guildford Book Festival 2011. I was singularly unimpressed. I asked for Aleph by Paulo Coelho. They had not a clue what I was talking about. I had to spell it twice in order that they could look it up.
Yesterday I visited The Haslemere Book Shop, an independent bookshop in Haslemere. It seems all the shops in Haslemere close at 5 o’clock, I got there just gone five. As if on cue, it chucked it down with rain. Sheltering in the rain I noticed the window display was very drab and uninspiring. Looking in through the window, the shop was closed, it looked equally drab and uninspiring inside.
A helpful lady came out and asked could she help, that the shop was open in the morning. I asked for Aleph. She had not a clue what I was talking about. Aleph by Paulo Coelho. She asked that I spell it, twice. A-l-e-p-h, same as first character of Hebrew Alphabet. She popped back in the shop and asked. No, they did not have.
As she was helpful, I wrote out for her details of the book and source of further information. I explained to her that Aleph was a worldwide bestseller, that Paulo Coelho was a well known writer, that Aleph was worth reading. I suggested she contact HarperCollinsUK for promotional material and that she had Aleph on display in the window.
With Aleph the fault lies with HarperCollinsUK, they have failed to alert bookshops. But, on the other hand, whatever the failings of HarperCollinsUK, I do expect bookshops to know about books. I expect them to know of international bestsellers, I expect them to know when a writer like Paulo Coelho has a new book out.
Aleph was published in UK 1 September 2011. In every country bar UK, it has shot to No1 within days of publication. What does this say about UK?
Have they given up? That at least is the impression I am being given. They have probabably looked at the books, seen the end is nigh, that there is little can be done and are now waiting for the axe to fall.