Thursday, 30 July 2009

What should go into a bookshop?

Vanessa asked this question over on the Fidra blog yesterday. They are, courageously, setting up a new bookshop in Edinburgh in a recession. Some people will say they are mad. I say, the more good bookshops the better. A book is not going to eat anything and requires little maintenance - just a safe place to sit and the gentle pat of a duster from time to time when not being otherwise gently caressed by the owner.
I also know why Vanessa has not yet read my offering of more than a year ago. Opening a new bookshop as well as running another one and a re-publishing business does not leave much time for real life or the reading of books or the baking of cakes. (I still expect my virtual slice of the shop's birthday cake Vanessa!)
But, what do you put into a shop? I sent off a list of Scottish authors - probably all terribly obvious to her but harder to obtain in Australia. (Ian Rankin, Nigel Tranter and Diana Gabaldon do appear on the library shelves along with JK Rowling et al. It was some lesser known bodies like Michel Faber and Edwin Morgan that I was suggesting.)
It made me think though. What else do I want in a bookshop? I do not want it cluttered up with calendars, cards, magazines, bookbags, CDs (unless they are audio-books) and DVDs. Some bookshops look more like a mini-supermarket. I know one that sells tea, coffee and mugs - but not in the civilised "sit down and have one now" fashion. It is not for me.
And then there are the books. I know that bookshops cannot carry every title in print. That would require a building the size of several city blocks and some storeys high. It would be good to have a means by where the intrepid customer could discover for themselves whether a book is (a) in print, (b) on the shelves and (c) if not on the shelves able to be ordered from this location. At the present time only the staff can do that - and some of them do not do that terribly well. I know, I have watched. Some of them need training in basic search skills. A facility such as I am suggesting will not do the staff out of a job - but it would be expensive to maintain.
Ah, the books. I am not interested in everything under the sun but a general bookshop needs variety. I find it off putting to go into a shop and be faced with huge piles of the latest "best-seller". Other people, especially the author, must delight in it. I like dictionaries, books of quotations, books about language and languages, knitting and children's books. Occasionally I will browse the cookbooks for something unusual or the gardening books for my father or my aunt. I'll look at toymaking, box making, origami and religion (of all sorts) for my father. I'll pick up new fiction by authors I already know and look at something that has been reviewed if it is of likely interest.
I do not bother with sport, true crime, tarot card reading, feng shui or the like. Other people obviously do or the books would not be there. It annoys me when an owner's personal prejudice gets in the way of a balanced selection in one area or another.
Once in a while I will pick up something that just 'catches my eye'. It is a hazard of entering a bookshop. It is a hazard I will have to continue negotiating. I am addicted to bookshops.


Tamara Hart Heiner said...

very interesting. I need to head over to our Indie and find out what they have there.

Holly said...

it is actually not all that hard to have a read only access computer to the current inventory data base. All it needs is a bit of programing so that the columns with all the price information other than retail are hidden.
Would actually save the cost of staff (unless those staff are good enough to make recommendations which would increase sales) by shifting the burden to the customer.

Me? I like the old card catalogs that libraries used to have.