Sunday 22 October 2017

Is this the end for the bookshop?

John Boland

Walk into any Irish bookshop and you're confronted by a bewildering range of ever-changing titles, yet we're told that sales in the last six months have fallen by almost 20pc when compared with the same period last year.

You can attribute some of that to the waning of the Fifty Shades phenomenon – apparently, last year, more than 500,000 copies of EL James's erotic novels were sold here, which was undoubtedly good news for their author but said something worrisome both about the lack-lustre sex lives of the Irish and their tolerance of wretched prose.

By contrast, this year's big hitters have had much more modest commercial success: Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl (40,000 copies sold), Dan Brown's Inferno (20,000 copies) and Patricia Scanlan's With all My Love (12,700 copies).

However, Nielsen Bookscan's figures don't include ebook purchases, which may account for a good percentage of dwindling bookshop sales, although a general decrease in consumer spending is also seen as a factor, along with the closure of independently owned bookshops in many Irish towns and cities.

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So, should we support our local bookshop rather than download the titles we want to read or buy them on Amazon? Only if they're doing their job well, argues Felicity Rubinstein, who's part-owner of a small bookshop in England and who has no time for "unimaginative or bad-tempered" retailers.

Writing in The Guardian, she feels that you're "far more likely to discover a new favourite writer in a small, curated shop with a well-read bookseller who knows your taste than in the mind-numbing virtual city of books that online retailers offer".

Indeed, she has "yet to meet anyone whose cockles are warmed by the words, 'Customers who bought this title also bought . . .'"

However, she has recently learned that 60pc of people in Britain (and presumably Ireland, too) are using bookshops as places where they merely browse for books that they then opt to buy online. That seems particularly unfair.

Irish Independent

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