Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Bought A Book At Tesco Recently?

I have, and I'm feeling a little ashamed of myself. It was cheap, it was something I'd read rather than something I desperately wanted, it caught my eye and I have problems walking past books without buying something.

So why should I feel ashamed? Well, I'm a reader, a reader of almost anything that comes in an acceptable typeface on paper that doesn't crumble when you touch it. I also read very quickly, all of which adds up to me needing to get my hands on large quantities of books. Along with that, I'm like anyone else - I like a bargain. If I can't find it in a library but it's in Oxfam for £1.20, whoopee.

However, I've lately been looking more at the workings and the economics of the book trade. I've been looking at companies like BetterWorld Books. I've also been reading a couple of blogs I found whilst reading around World Book Night. I'm also aware of the dire happenings at Borders and Waterstones. If the big boys are suffering, what must it be like for the small independents? Answer: not too good.

Authors are much like economically-developed countries: the rich get richer and the poor struggle on. For every JK Rowling there's a thousand people with dreams of being published, of selling a few copies of their work, even of being the next big thing. For every struggling author though, there isn't necessarily a publisher or a marketplace. Assume I've been lucky enough to find the former, where do I find the latter? My publisher can't get me into supermarkets or on the racks at airports and the web is new and scary. The alternative: smaller independent shops, especially local.

Why small, local shops? Well, go into any branch of WH Smith. Find an assistant (five points). Ask about a particular book or genre? Get look of blank incomprehension (zero points). Go into a real bookseller and ask: you'll hear "got it over here", "sorry, but I can order it and get it to you in three days", "did you know he has a new one out in a few weeks?", "she's doing a signing for us next month", "our reading group's doing that in April" and a whole load more. Added Value, in the jargon - or just a pleasant chat with a knowledgeable enthusiast. Want to know about similar authors? Ask a minimum wage Tesco shelfstacker - no, of course not.

One local venture that caught my eye recently is the Big Green Bookshop, an admirable book store in north London. What do they do, apart from sell books? To quote from their site:

• Author events including Will Self, Mark Billingham, David Vann, Karen Maitland, Christopher Fowler, Laura Dockrill, Magnus Mills and even Maisy Mouse!
• Musical evenings, film nights and historical walks
• Well over 300 visits so far to the local schools in Haringey, Enfield and Barnet helping them to promote literacy with author visits, talks, storytelling and whatever else we can.
• Monthly knitting groups, quizzes, writers groups and board games days (and we’re about to start a comedy night.)
• Two book groups.
• Weekly storytelling and singing for the under 5’s.
• Supporting local talent by holding book launches, poetry readings and talks by the cream of North London’s literary stars.
• Even a place to leave your shopping if it gets too heavy and to sit down with a free cup of tea or coffee.

I'd want more than a cup of coffee after meeting Will Self but that's a fantastic list - and yet they're struggling, thanks to the cost of the loan to buy the business. How can you help? Go and buy something from them. If you live anywhere nearby, pop over to Wood Green and wave the credit card at the shelves. Go to Big Green Bookshop Blog and click on the Donate button. Read onwards in the blog: they're planning an auction, with half the dosh going to local schools - a bit better than a few miserly schools vouchers when you spend a ton at Sainsbury! Contribute something to the auction, buy from it when it happens.

And get down to your local bookshop today - if you're lucky enough to have one. See what else they do - you'll be pleasantly surprised.

State Of Independents: Independent Booksellers Blog

BetterWorld Books: Comments on this book-recycling company


Man O' Clay said...

Hey, thanks again for the advice on my squidoo lens.

The market for someone like myself (aspiring author) is staggering. Somewhat discouraging really (I'm a fan of the understatement).

I do have a suggestion for you: read slower! I've set a goal for myself - 20 books from middle of January to May 26. What I'm finding is that I'm rushing. I don't like that. My blog (ha!) is all about reflection on things that should have our attention, especially good reads.

Right now I'm reading C.S. Lewis's poems. I find myself reading and rereading - those are the kinds of books I like, and the poetry I like, the kind that begs more and more looks!

I'll be following your blog!

Maxine said...

My book club discussed this very problem last week, we have book stores starting to close in Australia and Borders are looking to be next. I guess I am a culprit as most of my reads I download from the library, or get cheap from Amazon or free for my Kindle. I've just read Earth Abides by George R Stewart and his protagonist Isherwood Williams is a survivor of a devastating plague and makes a University Library taboo for fear of losing any of the books. I wonder with all this electronic resource if such an event was to happen in the distant future will there even be any books to save? The technological revolution has a lot to answer for in so many ways.

I also bought a dirt cheap book, it was from my local supermarket and was just $1. It was by John Saul and I'll probably never even read it :(

Borderline Books said...

Maybe not the right place to do this but I couldn't find any other way. Thanks for your comment to Borderline Books on the Guardian blog about Better World Books - the thing is that they sell books to people who buy books, whereas we give books to people who don't buy them.
As for your shameful behaviour in Tesco... you will just have to go to your local small independent bookseller and buy another book :-)
We blog too... borderlinebooks.blogspot.com

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