Monday, March 29, 2004

OK, stuff.

I've added the comments just in case anyone gets inspired to write me anything. If they get spammed, they'll just as suddenly disappear again...

I have some comment or other about accents, having been in Aberdeen recently, but I can't seem to make it coherent right now, so I'm going to bang on about second-hand bookshops again.

One of my favourite places on this here interweb is Making Light; I ought to confess that the odd link has come from there over the years (over the years! Listen to me!). Recently I have been following this discussion with interest, for the future of independent and second-hand bookshops is dear to my heart. It surprises me not a bit that the small bookshop in Boston or Chicago is suffering the same privations as the small bookshop in this country, and I am equally at a loss to suggest what might be done about it, but that's not going to stop me trying.
Once upon a time, there was a thing called the Net Book Agreement. It was by no means the universal panacea, but it served to protect the smaller bookshop by preventing price-cutting on books. Everything had to be sold at the price printed on the cover, and although large retailers might make more margin, no-one was swayed by the price of a new book into buying it with the groceries when their friendly local bookshop offered the same item at the same price. Bookshops offered variety, supermarkets offered volume. If you wanted the new Jeffrey Archer or Catherine Cookson, there were hundreds of copies at your local Woolworth, but if you wanted to explore a bit further, there was a little shop just down the road which carried the complete works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Milan Kundera.
At some point between 1994 and 1996, the NBA simply crumbled away. No-one abolished it - the Publisher's RRP is still printed on every book - it just stopped working. And, as appears to be natural, once you allow discounting, prices go up. Prices went up to make the discounts look more appealing, and prices went up because they could. The big retailers had more clout, they sucked people in with their coffee shops and their brightly coloured stationery, and they turned book-buying into a lifestyle experience. None of which is, in itself, a bad thing There really is more choice out there, and the quality of production (if not always the quality of prose) has gone up noticeably in recent years.
But the independent is struggling, unable to meet the big boys' prices, and unable now even to compete on variety. And something strange has happened to the secondhand trade. It used to be the case that old books - battered but loved - were a positive, a sign of something good about a house, but it seems to me that people would rather have shiny new things these days, and the second hand trade (outside of mad places like Hay) is slowly fading away. I don't remember the last time I saw a new secondhand shop open, but I can take you to the sites of at least a dozen which are no longer there. I can't imagine how any of them make money, save the expensive ones (which are, in any case, 'Antiquarian Bookshops') and the ones tied to online selling, of which there are several. But online browsing is no substitute for spending half a day crawling around the creaky floor of a shop which time forgot and eventually turning up that missing Milligan, or finding a pristine copy of Perdido Street Station for a pound.

I really ought to start on that online directory, oughtn't I? When am I going to find time for that?

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