So, this is pretty queer.
Defying all expectations, forecasts and logic, the humble bookshop–as in, those places we all used to go to buy an actual analogue piece of inscribed dead tree–is making a comeback.
According to figures just released in the U.S, sales of print books rose last year for the first time since 2007 (the final year of the Harry Potter saga, coincidentally). Sales of eBooks have fallen for the first time ever.
In the UK, Waterstones is also reporting a widespread resurgence in physical books. On the brink of bankruptcy four years ago, Waterstones has now stopped selling Kindles in most of its stores due to a massive drop in demand and turned the freed up space back over to displaying hardbacks and paperbacks.
Wanna know something else? Used bookshops are enjoying something of a boon as well.
Double ewe tea eff is going on then? When we all carry around magic devices on to which we can download almost any book we can imagine in a matter of seconds, why do we seem to be turning our backs on 21stcentury technology and returning to the printing press?
I think we can rule out convenience. When an iPad or Kindle weighs about the same as a paperback and can store more titles than any one person could sensibly expect to read in a lifetime, or have room for in a good size house, convenience takes a back seat. Plus, there’s the ordeal of actually going to a bookshop to consider as well. That involves going outside. Who has time for that?
But that’s just it. If one must go outside and risk all that fresh air getting into your lungs, what better reason than to visit a bookshop? Even a nationwide chain such as Waterstones, rather than being a faceless corporate entity, is now an inviting and enticing place to visit. There are cafes and coffee shops inside and individual store managers are given the freedom to decide which books they’ll stock to reflect the wants of their local community.
Of course, independent bookshops, as well as having a charm all of their own, have always been the place where likeminded people could connect, where passionate employees recommend books to passionate readers, where you can go for author readings, panel discussions or just to gather and exchange ideas. It’s an adventure going to an indie bookshop. While they can’t compete with online retailers on price, the likes of Amazoncan’t get anywhere close to the retail experience a good bookshop can offer. Most also have a healthy used books section, the ideal place to discover a new favourite author without having to risk too much of an investment.
So is this the end of eBooks? Seems difficult to imagine. There are still plenty of benefits. Particularly for the elderly or those with limited vision, the ability to change font sizes is a godsend. They’re perfect for holiday reading rather than using up your entire baggage allowance on paperbacks.
But as for devices such as the Kindle, the future isn’t so clear-cut. This is technology that doesn’t wear out or become obsolete, and pretty much everyone who wanted one has one by now. Plus, with eReader apps available on the iPad or other tablets, it doesn’t make much sense to have a device that does just one thing. You can’t rule out a slight backlash against Amazon either, for their tax shenanigans.
Personally, I like eBooks. They have features that I miss sometimes when I’m reading physical books. I can’t be the only one who’s pressed a word momentarily on a paper page, trying to look up its definition. (I’m not the only one, right?)
But anyone with a soul, surely knows that there’s nothing like the real thing.
Most of us spend our working lives in front of computer screens, so don’t want to spend our free time in front of another one. Books are warm, comforting things–not hard, cold and metallic.
And then there’s the smell. Up there with babies, freshly mown grass and new cars, old books have the greatest, most evocative smell there is. That vanilla-y, floral aroma that hits you when you walk into a second-hand bookshop is intoxicating. There’s no app for that.
Print books and bookshops have had it rough for the last few years, but with the latest figures pointing upwards, maybe it’s time for some quiet optimism. If you haven’t patronised your local independent bookseller for a while, why not do yourself a favour this weekend and drop in? And if you make a great find, be sure to let the rest of us know.