Yesterday, the author James Patterson was on UK radio discussing his current plight, namely, saving the local bookshop from extinction. In recent years, he’s concentrated his philanthropic efforts on the noble cause of improving literacy amongst children but it now seems as though he’s been deflected by the beat of another drum.
I’ve written a number of posts regarding the demise of local bookshops and, if you’re a regular reader of this blog, then you’ll know that generally I think it’s sad that they’re going. But, it’s not as simple as pretending they’re whales and trying to save them. Can an entire category of shops be saved?
We all have memories of going to bookshops when we were children, most of you reading this blog are probably writers or at least enjoy reading about writers, and we all caught that bug for books somewhere. The local bookshop was like a gateway to another world (and libraries of course) and there’s something precious about their memory. Wouldn’t it be great to live in a world where little, magical bookshops were still present in every town?
But, wait… what’s that I hear? No one buys books from bookshops anymore? Oh, that changes things then.
Patterson’s attempts at saving a dying trend are sentimental at best. He argued that governments should somehow subsidise the local bookshops so that they’d remain viable, in the same way that the US government kept the car industry afloat. The differences between these two industries are far too great to even scratch the surface of in a blog like this, but they have something to do with national GDP, mass employment and macro factors which could never affect a lowly bookshop.
To make the comparison proved that he was emotionally spouting off without any real sense of exactly what he wanted to achieve. He kept repeating that he just wanted to raise awareness of it. I hate to break it to him, but we all know that they’re disappearing but the answer isn’t to just go around wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with ‘Save the Bookshop’.
I don’t even know who he was blaming, I think it was probably Amazon, the company which has probably collected millions for him in the last decade. The answer to saving bookshops cannot come from readers having to choose to pay more because they sentimentally like them.
Unfortunately, the demise of bookshops is a symptom of the progress made in technology. Other people are just as emotional about their local record shops which have all but disappeared too. When Patterson was asked if this wasn’t just the same situation as we’ve experienced in music, he simply replied that he thought literature was more important than music.
You can’t say such a valued judgement and hope that your cause remains standing. He may think that books are more important but others will disagree, and who cares anyway? Bookshops and record shops are exactly the same situation. New buying options have come along and replaced older methods. The newer sources are cheaper, quicker and more comprehensive. It’s the future whether you like it or not. “Get out of the old road, if you can’t lend a hand.”
So, in my opinion, James Patterson who freely admits to only writing about 80 words of his books these days, is sounding like a dinosaur banging his prehistoric drum like a busker from The Flintstones. If you want my answer to how we can help bookshops regenerate then, briefly, we should put pressure on the bookshops to change.
You don’t ask if the customer could benevolently shop somewhere, the shop must come up with good reasons to entice the customer back. Trying to save a bookshop from the outside is laughably naive. The bookshop needs to save itself. They can’t compete on price so what else have they got? Come on, you independent bookshops, start getting creative.