Are printed books history?

Are printed books history?

006With the imminent closure of the Bolingbroke Bookshop on Northcote Road – after trading for 31 years – is the writing on the wall for independent book shops? More than that, will people even be buying printed books in ten years’ time?

Total sales of printed books fell by almost £74 million last year* while sales of e-books are soaring as more people switch to reading books on a screen of some kind. It’s easy to see why. The beauty of e-readers is the ability to order a book 24/7 whenever, wherever, whatever. Thousands of books can be carried around on something that weighs less than, well, less than a book. Even though the Bolingbroke Bookshop could order a book for next day delivery, today’s want-it-NOW generation (which is pretty much all of us) isn’t prepared to wait that long. And when supermarkets can sell the latest Harry Potter, for example, at less than independent shops can buy it for, it’s no wonder that many bookshops are struggling.

But, however saddened we are by the closure of a book shop on our doorstep, the fact is people will continue to download books on their e-readers and more people will jump on the digital book wagon. So is this the final chapter for the printed book and will the rise of the e-book mean that bookshops, even the larger stores such as Waterstone’s and Foyles, be forced off the high street like HMV and Blockbuster?

I like to think not. Of course, there are those who’ve already converted to the e-reader, while others vow never to go near one and prefer the tactile experience of the printed book. Then there are those who dabble between the two, feeling slightly guilty at betraying the faithful printed book yet excited by the added features of the bright new Kindle on the block. And this is probably where most people will end up. Quick reads and holiday books are suited to the e-reader. More substantial books – the ones we care about – children’s picture stories and adult books with photographs and illustrations seem better in print.

The fact is, we are reading (and writing) more than ever. There is also evidence that the e-reader is attracting new readers who wouldn’t normally pick up a book. All good news for authors and publishers, but what of our beloved bookshops?

Personally, there’s little I enjoy more than pottering around good bookshops. But they have to ensure they are offering something that Amazon and the like can’t. Our very own Clapham Books , for example, offers personal service, holds regular book readings, author visits and story time for young children. They even offer an online service. Many bookshops have coffee shops attached and sell additional items. There is also a growing interest in shops selling specialist and antiquarian books.

Yes, it’s going to be tough but there is room for both. Just because we like the convenience of a take-away pizza that doesn’t mean we don’t like fine dining too. Of course, price does matter but so does individual customer service. And of course, we actually have to remember to use our bookshops and shop local . It’s up to us…

What do you think?

*Source: BBC

2 comments to Are printed books history?

  • alison buchanan

    I was also very saddened to hear of the closure of the Bollingbroke bookshop – saddness tinged with guilt as I tend to buy books on line, although I love browsing in a bookshop. I am also sorry to say that I was given a kindle for Christmas and, having thought I wouldn’t like it, I am a complete convert. However, if they encourage reluctant readers, especially children, that is a good thing.

    I think you are right and the solution is book shops providing something extra; coffee shops, book readings and author visits and, especially in south London, story telling and other events for children. I hope we can manage to accommodate book shops in our new electronic world!

  • Andrew Nicholson

    I too was saddened to hear about the Bollingbroke bookshop, although from what I’ve heard it’s demise has as much to do with greedy landlords as competition from e retailers.

    We often view the world in black and white, but as we all know the literary world is shades of grey (all 50 of them). I think there’s a place for both e and p. I’ve bought and read ebooks and then later craving the physicality of the book bought the same title in print to proudly display on my bookshelf. My bookshelf is a literary scrap book of my life representing far flung holidays and tortuously long train journeys – no e bookshelf could ever compete. That said, ebooks are fantastic for kids with dyslexia – you can change the brightness or page colour and enlarge the text to help with eye scan, opening a whole new world of age appropriate books available in dyslexia friendly formats.

    I love books, sometimes I like to hold one and sometimes I like to have 1,500 available in my suitcase. Ebooks are just a new chapter, let’s keep turning the pages.

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