Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Booksellers: The Chains vs. The Independents

Waterstones is the biggest book-selling chain in the UK. It has over 300 stores, employs over 4,500 book sellers, and it claims that its Piccadilly branch is the largest book shop in Europe, stocking over 200,000 books.

I love Waterstones: I love the sense of darkened calm which soaks over me when I visit. The smell of newly-printed books, the organisation, and the reliability: if I want a book, and it’s been published recently, chances are that I’ll be able to find it on their shelves. And there’s a good chance that some of the books I’m looking for will be on offer more cheaply there than anywhere else.

Because of its centralised buying systems and its demand for the highest discounts, Waterstones isn’t quite so good, however, at stocking the quirky stuff. The odd books, the peculiar books, the ones which are less likely to sell in vast amounts but which are interesting to smaller audiences who want something a little different to read when they go to bed at night.

For that you usually need an independent bookshop, and they’re in increasingly short supply.

I’ll be blogging about the various reasons for that soon, but meanwhile if you have a favourite bookshop, whether it’s a Waterstones or not, do please tell me about it. Where is it? What’s it called? And what treasures have you found there?

My recent finds include David and Ruth Ellwand's enchanting The Mystery Of The Fool And The Vanisher; the beautiful 44 Things, by Kirsty Gunn; and Niall Griffiths' Real Aberystwyth, which reminds me of childhood holidays and hours catching mackerel from my Great Uncle Richard's fishing boat, the Lucky Maid. As I said: odd books; peculiar books; smaller audiences.


Jane Smith said...

(Incidentally, if anyone can tell me how to get rid of those extra spaces which follow the Amazon links I've put in on this, and other posts, I'd be grateful. They irritate me to the point of frenzy, but I can't work out how to eliminate them without stopping the link from working. Pah.)

Anonymous said...

Ah, now that I live in Spain, how I miss the beautiful Daunt books. . .


The original is in Marylebone, and they now have others in Belsize Park and Hampstead.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget secondhand book stores, which can be a goldmine. I live in Cromer, in North Norfolk, and we have at least three good ones in town, plus another one in Sheringham, and another in Holt. All staffed by loveable eccentrics whose bibliophilia exceeds their business sense, bless 'em. And whenever I visit Hay-on-Wye, I feel like I've died and gone to bibliophile heaven.

Jane Smith said...

Second-hand bookshops: now you're talking.

Wenlock Books (there's a link on my front page) does old and new books, and is fantastic. I'm in a bit of a wasteland here (Sheffield) for independents, and have to go to Bakewell to find a good one, and I've not found any good second-hand bookshops within reach. Just as well, seeing as I have once again run out of shelf-space. If I get round to it I'll post a picture of some of my book shelves, which are at once inspiring and depressing.

Anonymous said...

I'm a huge fan of Foyles - would far rather shop there than the Picadilly Waterstones, though they're (longish) walking distance apart so I often end up doing both. I have a weakness for the creaky floors and historical associations of Hatchards, and though they're owned by Waterstones they still have their own personality. I've just discovered Daunts, ah..... My locals, Village Books and Dulwich Books are both great, and the small but perfectly formed Review in Bellenden Road, Peckham has a coffee machine, a very nice separate space for readings and the like, and an impressive calendar of off-beat events. And Kestrel Books in Sudbury, Suffolk, is a book-stuffed delight.

Nicola Slade said...

This is a good independent shop for new books:

The Arcade Bookshop 6 Fryern Arcade, Winchester Rd, Chandlers Ford, Hampshire SO53 2DP ...

Small but perfectly formed.

It's not safe to let me loose in secondhand bookshops and one of these days I'm going back to Hay on Wye to visit every single shop!
(The Winchester Oxfam bookshop is pretty good too.)

Anonymous said...

Jane - does the link problem only happen with amazon?
If so, you could try pasting your amazon link into www.tinyurl.com This converts long links to something more compact (and they still work!) I don't get the spaces problem myself, but this could be worth a try.