Thursday, 31 October 2013

The bookshop, internet culture, and change

I've been asked by Lynette, who edits the redoubtable quarterly magazine The Charlbury Chronicle, if I would like to write a piece for the next issue on the ending of an era at the bookshop. Of course the answer was 'yes', and I realise it gives me a chance to say thank you to all those extraordinary people I have met here who happily blur the distinction between customer and friend. Also to prod people into awareness of the problems many of their neighbours are facing as we all live in an internet-oriented society, where to be off-line can quickly make you vulnerable and disadvantaged.

Next year I want to see if other people are interested in enabling the digitally excluded to play a fuller part, and not to fall by the wayside when they become ill, elderly, or otherwise incapacitated.

Meanwhile, for the record, here's what I've written for the Chronicle:

• • • • •

As I write this at the end of October, it doesn't look as if anyone will be taking over the bookshop when I retire in January. I shall be sorry to be living in a town without a bookshop. I've been a bookseller for most of the last 45 years, but while most good things come to an end, others may start afresh! I have plenty to look forward to.

Unlike all or most other western European countries, Britain has chosen to place no restriction on the discounting of books, and together with the advent of the ebook this has made traditional 'bricks and mortar' bookshops increasingly vulnerable. As more and more people shop online, we've just been waiting for the tipping point to come. In France, Germany, Sweden, Italy, Holland and elsewhere they made different decisions. (And don't fall into the trap of just blaming the Tories.) The turnover at Evenlode Books is little more than half what it was 7 or 8 years ago, and falling year by year. We have to accept this state of affairs: as a community and as a country we have made our choice.

The eclectic and idiosyncratic stock of a 'real' bookshop is something quite special, but now increasingly hard to find. That is something you cannot replicate on a website. And if this shop closes, I urge you to transfer your allegiance to Rachel at the Woodstock Bookshop or Patrick and Polly at Jaffe and Neale in Chippy, if you travel in those directions.

On the one hand, what has particularly saddened me over the last thirteen years (I opened the shop on April Fool's Day 2000) has been the occasionally belligerent, more commonly just sadly negative attitude of some people to the internet. Proud not to be online, determined to remain aloof from the changes taking place in the world around them, as they get older these people are destined for increasing isolation and helplessness. Some are among the readers of this article. I know some octogenarians who shop online and have everything, groceries, clothing and all, delivered to their door, while their neighbours many years their junior complain of their problems accessing shops, services and information. Who will pick up the pieces?

I'd like to spend some time next year working on ways of contacting and educating our computerphobes, so they can participate in the ever-changing society most of us benefit from being part of. Are you interested in exploring the options?

By contrast, what has cheered me no end has been the extraordinary variety and number of people I have met here. I feel quite privileged as I walk to work each morning and exchange greetings with such remarkable and diverse people. Most of us speak to little more than a dozen local people at most: I get to speak to hundreds! As I look forward to my retirement, I want to say thank you to so many of you who have made working, and more recently living, in this remarkable town such an enjoyable experience.

Now to answer the questions people are asking me: yes, Christmas is business very much as usual in the shop, with the overnight delivery service on customer orders very much in place. Then, assuming no one comes forward, the bookshop will close with a big sale in mid-January. And Charlbury may lose yet another retail premises. You can keep up-to-date with any news at should circumstances change.

Looking further ahead, I'd love to keep in touch, and if you care to follow me on my blog at, I'll be very pleased to have your company and have the occasional chat and exchange of views.

Meanwhile, see you in the queue at the Co-op!

(And thanks to Sue Mynall for the lovely drawing!)