Imagine a world in which to browse for books is to browse an online bookstore. Imagine being bombarded by adverts; imagine information about your browsing habits being recorded in order to tailor more adverts.
Imagine struggling to browse, because categories are confusing and you can’t hold a book in your hands, flick through the pages, examine the cover and the blurb, get a feel for the book.
Imagine there being fewer books to browse, because publishers have gone out of business due to the constant devaluing (price cuts) of books by the likes of Amazon, thus making publishing an unprofitable venture.
Imagine walking down the high street or main street in town and seeing, among the empty shop premises, what was once a bookstore – a place that felt like home, a place where you discovered new treasures, found ‘your tribe’, met an author at a signing, maybe even had a coffee and a cake. Imagine the emptiness not just before you, the empty bookshelves visible through the window, but also inside you.
Imagine wondering just where this world is heading.
It is not so hard to imagine these things, because in so many places they are a reality, and in many more they are a distinct possibility, a threat.
Can we live, progress, without bookshops? The oldest bookshop in the world is Livraria Bertrand founded in 1732 in Lisbon, Portugal. Almost 300 years of history. From the most famous bookstores – like Shakespeare and Company, Paris, and Atlantis Books, Santorini – to the chain stores and, best of all, the tiny independent shops run by lifetime bibliophiles, each is precious. If, as Cicero said, ‘A room without books is like a body without a soul’, then a town without a bookshop is one without a soul.
Recent research in the UK conducted by Manchester Metropolitan University found that ‘bookshops are playing a “vital” role in the recovery and regeneration of high streets in towns across the UK and Ireland’ (source). The head of the Booksellers Association of UK & Ireland said in response:
We have always known the important role our members play within their communities, acting as leaders on the high street and providing spaces for book lovers to come together and share their passion for reading. This important research … helps show just how vital bookshops are for our towns and cities.
What do you think? Can town centres survive without bookshops? Can the internet replace bricks-and-mortar shops? Will publishing be transformed, and in turn reading? I would love to hear your thoughts.
Photo credit: Tim Mossholder on Unsplash.