You often hear people talking about supporting independent bookshops as if they’re some charity case. I don’t agree with this – they have real advantages. One of them really hit me recently when I was buying a book for my nephew’s birthday. Time was short, and I was worried about being able to buy it, write the inscription, wrap it and send it off to reach him on his birthday.
I checked various online stores, and unless I wanted to pay a lot for express shipment, none could guarantee delivery in less than a week. When I emailed my local independent bookshop, though, they replied quickly to say that the book was not in stock, but they could order it for me and it would arrive the following day. One day after deciding which book to buy, I was able to walk over to the shop and have the book in my hand. I also had a nice half-hour chat with the bookshop owner about the state of the publishing industry and the world in general. The shop in question was the Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green, which I can really recommend, but any decent local bookshop will have a similar service.
Of course, Amazon’s great for a lot of things. I love the amount of information and reader reviews, which in fact helped me decide which book to buy in the first place. They can often give you a cheaper price due to the volume of books they sell and the discounts they negotiate with publishers. The same goes for other online stores like the Book Depository and Books etc. But there are certain things that local, independent shops are just better at. Everyone talks about the friendliness, book recommendations, etc., and that’s all important, but to me the fact that it’s often quicker and easier to buy from them is often overlooked.
Click here to read a post I wrote on the challenges facing independent bookshops in the UK, and here to read how they handle it in France. I also linked to a list of independent bookshops in London, and wrote a eulogy to mark the closure of my local north London bookshop.