As a follow on from last weeks World Book Day here ae some thoughts from our Business Manager – Elouise Smith
I walked into Waterstones the other day, and the place was vibrant with life. Not a speck of dust on a cobweb covered shelf housing a couple of unloved books to be found. There was a queue at the tills, the coffee shop was busy, the slide (!?) for the little ones was in full use and just the smell made me feel intelligent – offering the potential to walk out with a purchase of great meaning or self-development in my hands like a shield as I ventured back into the real world.
So how apt that we have a World Book Day, were we celebrate all things book! Something that has been happening annually now for the last 20 years suggesting, no, confirming that actual books and reading are most certainly not going out of fashion.
Within those 20 years the fear that the book shops days were numbered was very real. As technology continued to progress and ‘digital’ was becoming a part of our everyday lives to a point that we could never have imagined, the ‘tools’ and media that we could access became infinite and universal. I remember my mother telling me that I had to learn maths because I couldn’t carry a calculator with me everywhere I went…sorry ma! (although she was correct, you always need your basic mathematical skills kids!!) So as our phones moved off the wall and into our pockets and mainly because the internet became portable changing how we access music, videos, and of course books so too did the consumer’s choice.
What happened? In very general terms:
Amazon threatened Waterstones. (other books shops are available)
Netflix threatened Blockbusters. (not sure other movie rentals were available??)
ITunes threatened HMV (HMV was/is the last man standing)
What took hold of the market changed things for ever, but it seemed that books were the format that survived. Music is hanging on in there but has certainly reduced its high street presence – perhaps because it isn’t something that we need to look at or hold. Music has always been available at the press of a button but now it is instantly in your ears and although vinyl is making an understated comeback and CD’s are still out there I now only buy it in these formats if it is one of my all time favourite artists and its more of a collectors piece, ironically I still download it too. And as for movies, these are now more disposable than ever, we still like the cinema – that didn’t die out, but have favoured an online subscription or rental over a trip out to choose a film and buying and owning a DVD in its box. All this has certainly cleared off the movies and music selections on our shelves at home, perhaps making room for more books?
So what is my point, other than to say that the times they are a changin’ – I guess it’s to say that despite predictions somethings won’t change, they just have a few ups and downs. It is like when the fax machine came – did we stop sending less post? The email came in, the fax (thankfully) died, but do we now receive less through our door – the answer is no! People still need the physical in their hands, the written word, the feel and smell of print. So although technology has moved on again, and again the old habits aren’t dying out!
I know as an avid reader I love the fact that I can now access more books than ever before and all from the comfort of my bed. I probably actually read more than I ever have before, but that hasn’t changed the fact that nothing beats a good book, and by that I mean the weight, shape, smell, feel and experience that a physical book offers. This is probably something that gave the medium an edge over the other 2, in a music store you had to judge the music by its cover, in a movie rental store you had to judge the film by its cover and in a book shop you can judge the book by its cover, then read the blurb, then have a cheeky look through the pages. And can you imagine a world without real cookbooks – online recipes haven’t hampered this market, without children’s books – tablets haven’t taken away a child’s delight at a book with real turn-able pages and pictures to rip up and draw all over! And what would aunts and uncles buy their nieces and nephews if not a book token?
In conclusion book shops will be around until the day my office goes paperless (every office everywhere declares this intent, tell me I’m wrong).
So, enjoy 20 more World Book Days, enjoy it every day, enjoy everything about your next real page turning, smelly, heavy book – that doesn’t need to be plugged in and charged and wont interrupt you with a news update or an email.