This summer, Emma Chapman author of the ‘creepy little chiller’ (Hilary Mantel) How To Be A Good Wife, will take to the British roads in a challenge to visit as many independent bookshops as she can in one month. She tells us what motivated her Indie Book Crawl…
While I was writing my first novel and working in a gift shop, I spent a lot of time daydreaming. I would imagine what it would be like if I was ever a published author. Terrible clichés would run through my mind: holding the finished book, seeing it in a bookshop, meeting readers. I used to think up crazy, outlandish things that I would do to ensure I made the most of every opportunity.
Now that my first novel has been out in the world for over a year, I often think of that daydreaming girl. I don’t want to disappoint her. Every week, I read another article about how hard it is to be a writer, how riddled with anxiety and uncertainty this job is. I’ve been guilty of moaning about it myself. But if that daydreaming girl could hear me beseeching my position as a published writer, she’d kick me in the teeth.
This summer, I’m taking that girl up on her daydreams. I’m coming back to the UK, and I’ve set myself a challenge. I’ll visit as many independent bookshops as I can in one month, to thank those that work in them for all the work they do on behalf of authors.
It’s easy to bemoan the fact that Amazon and online book retailing are making independent booksellers’ lives difficult, but there are also lots of things to be positive about. In the UK in 2012, 58.8% of our book purchases still took place in bricks and mortar stores, whether that’s independents or others. That’s compared to 31.6% in the US, where it’s actually big chain stores that are suffering more than independents.
People are reading more than ever. Although more people now own EBook readers (50% of those surveyed in the Internet and American Life survey, people prefer reading print books. Between 2012 and 2014, the percentage of adults who read print rather than Ebook increased from 65% to 69%. In November 2012 in the UK, Ebooks only had 9% of the total book market.
Publishers are also supportive of independents and other book retailers. No one wants Amazon to be the only port of call for book buyers: they have a big enough monopoly on sales as it is. Also, the publishers understand that if physical bookstores go, it could affect whether they exist as well. Does Amazon need the publishers to exist? Since it now has its own publishing house, Amazon Publishing, the answer could well be no.
It’s undeniable that the book industry and the way we purchase books are changing. But it’s also undeniable that local bookshops offer much more than book buying. They offer advantages to a community: skilled personalized help from book lovers, book clubs, events, beautiful displays, the joy of browsing, and lots of other innovative things which online retailers simply can’t offer. Some, like Jaffe and Neale, have opened cafes to enhance their status as meeting points. So much about reading and literature is about discussion, debate and building relationships. Independent bookshops understand this is something that the Internet will never truly achieve.
Ultimately, it becomes a choice for the consumer. These bookshops will not continue to exist if we don’t buy our books from them. It’s as simple as that. Most people don’t want that to happen, but they still take the advantages of prices that Amazon offers. Amazon sells books at a loss as it makes the money up on other things, and it’s building a customer base. But we need to start making the choice to support independents before it’s too late. Otherwise, all the other things that they offer will disappear too.
What, really, are we losing by shopping local? Many local bookshops offer a next day delivery service just like Amazon. We’re saving maybe a few pounds here and there, for a product that has taken its author years to create. A few pounds that can help keep these wonderful independent bookshops in business.
I believe that we all need to make conscious purchasing choices for the long game. I think that authors can do more to spread the word about this: to encourage readers to buy from their local bookshop. That is exactly what my tour is about. It’s also an opportunity to have an adventure in my home country, drink endless cups of tea, and satisfy the daydreaming girl I used to be.
Emma Chapman, author of How To Be A Good Wife will be visiting Jaffé & Neale on 12 July 2014. Take a look at the map below to see her full route!