As a teenager I had two passions, one was collecting vinyl and the other was collecting books. There was a second-hand bookshop that I use to plunder for inspiration. There were no hand written cards about what the book was like, there was no recommendation engine to say if you like ‘Spies in the House of Love”, you’ll love Tropic of Cancer. It was a bare-bones bookshop with the shelves stacked high with cheap books.
Majority of my time I would buy a book because it was on my hitlist as ‘a classic’, other times it might be the cover of a book that grabs my attention, but it was that element of serendipity that made me come back until the shop closed down.
Bookshops in general have come under threat from a number of different sources. Amazon and the large supermarkets have brought down the cost of buying books without necessarily enhancing the experience. There is still a space for bibliophiles that transcends the pile them high sell them cheap model. Why there is even a perfume for bibliophiles to capture that old book smell.
Sadly bookshop chains such as Waterstones have in the past few years set a pretty low bar. Shelf space became real estate as oppose to theatre. This is the product of planner-grams that map out what shelves are most profitable but the downside to this is a uniform appearance that strips out any trace of a bookshop’s individual character.
There are some exceptions to this approach with Foyles and Daunt bookshops recognising that they can’t compete on price but can carve a niche based on knowledge and passion for books and reading. (See photo of Foyles)
To that end James Daunt in a BBC Radio 4 talk on the Future of Books spoke of the need for digital to complement the physical rather than be seen as it’s replacement. This I believe is starting to happen with quality book apps coming onto the market.
Classic books like A Clockwork Orange are being re-imagined in the digital space. The original text is now part of a package of content along with a host of interactive extras that provides a broader perspective around how the novel took shape.
The Silent History book app takes this a stage further by developing the reading experience specifically for Tablet and smartphone. Chapters become game levels to unlock. The narrative enhanced by encouraging the reader to go to physical location in order to uncover more.
Clearly book publishers have seen and learned from the misfortune of music and film companies. I believe they’ve benefitted from change having come more slowly. Probably because books are less prone to collective fashion and taste. Book apps have managed to bridge the personal relationship we may have with a particular title and embellished it with new meaning.
When I went into Foyles, it was not like going into HMV. Certain shelves were carefully curated by staff. You could see there was care and passion that went into those shelves. It was not about shifting as many different types of books as cheaply as possible because that’s Amazon’s space.
People will continue to be passionate about books no matter what medium it takes…so long as that passion comes through. As soon as that passion is gone you’re no better surfing Amazon or the aisles of Tesco.