The Sadness of Bookshop Closures

Bookshop Haul
Bookshop Haul

I wish this could be a light-hearted piece about my latest book purchases and what I am looking forward to reading.

Instead, it is with great sadness that I show you my last purchases from the local independent bookshop. Unfortunately, the wonderful Librairie Centrale in Ferney-Voltaire in France is going to close this coming Saturday. Despite French policy on fixed pricing for books, and despite the fact that it was the only bookshop in a region of 27 villages and 80,000 inhabitants, it too fell victim to online retailers and the rise of e-books. It had been operating at a loss for about a year, although I personally never left the shop empty-handed. I loved chatting to the owner, who would recommend books or order those hard-to-find editions for me.

It made the national news (you can see a short clip in French on You Tube, see the link below). The local inhabitants did try to form an association to save the bookshop. We organised bring-and-buy book sales, literary events, word-of-mouth campaigns, but it was all too little too late.  Late last week we were told that the court of Bourg-en-Bresse has ordered the cessation of commercial activity (forced bankruptcy).  As the video says, it is ironic that in the village founded by writer and patron of the arts Voltaire, there should be no bookshop. Market forces, I suppose, but I still have a leaden heart about it!


24 thoughts on “The Sadness of Bookshop Closures”

  1. This keeps happening over here too. It is very sad. Am going to go to the only bookshop in our village today. Thanks for reminding me to do that.

  2. Oh it’s so sad. Although I’m guilty as charged for using Amazon myself, I do like to support local stores too and am a regular at a new venture here in Lincoln. On that note, we just had word that 30 of Lincolnshire’s libraries are closing, including the one in our village. I’m shocked and devastated at this news, especially as the government so blatantly put ‘literacy’ at the core of the curriculum. I can’t work out whether I’m being a dinosaur here, or whether the world is going to the dogs.

    Commiserations, Marina, I’m sure the loss of your local indie shop will be greatly felt. No idea what to suggest other than… start a new one, like Joff Gainey’s endeavour here in Lincoln?

    1. And I use Amazon too, especially for English-language books which I can’t find over here (or are ridiculously over-priced here), or for Kindle. But there should always be room for that independent and knowledgeable retailer. There is one tiny shop left specialising in BD, so we’ll cling to that (my boys are excellent customers there too).
      As for libraries, grrrr, don’t get me started! Luckily, we are doing well here: nearly every village has its local library, even if it’s open only for a few hours each day. We are registered with 7 of them!

  3. A recent Panorama program on BBC and an article in this sunday’s Observer clearly showed that Amazon do not treat their staff very well. I shall be very reluctant to buy from them in future.

    1. You are right, Norman, it was quite an eye-opening documentary. Although I have enough contact with corporates to know that many of them do not treat their staff well either…

  4. Marina Sofia – So very sad to hear of this closure. There’s something about a real live bookshop that simply can’t be replaced by the Internet. That really is unfortunate news.

    1. I just wish there were room for both online and physical bookstores. Just like my possession of a tablet has not meant I no longer buy physical books (in fact, if anything, it simply means I buy more books of either kind…. sigh!)

  5. Guilty in my own small way of contributing to the demise of small indies, I’m afraid. There’s not one left in my home town now of Leighton Buzzard, and hasn’t been for nearly a year.

  6. We haven’t had a bookshop for years except WH Smith, which for years has only really stocked bestsellers. But I’m sad to say I love shopping on Amazon much though I dislike some of their practices – much prefer browsing online to going to a shop, and I find the reviews and recommendations have widened my tastes hugely. Shame there doesn’t seem to be room for both.

  7. Wow, this is sad. It’s funny how we sometimes take things for granted! I’ll try not to read more into the demise of the book shops than a market shift to e-Books, but I can’t help but wonder what kind of a world it would be without physical books to line our shelves.

  8. Speaking as an independent bookseller, I think the future should – as far as possible – be peaceful co-existence (internally, Amazon uses war metaphors constantly, so I think it’s useful to adopt similar terminology!). We have plenty of customers who visit us who ‘love their Kindles’ and we never slag off Amazon in our shop – why make your customers feel bad or uncomfortable. Instead we try to up our game in terms of events, recommends, personal service, try-before-you-buy next-day ordering. All of these things, at the moment, make us viable – although it certainly isn’t easy and we had to let a very valuable staff member go earlier this year.

    One thing that we are trying is ‘bundling’ – buy the book, get the eBook for free. Although only for a few publishers, that has been very popular with die-hard eBook users and, again, makes us more relevant in the digital age.

    I don’t want to defend Amazon – they are definitely pro-active in destroying value in the book trade – but I think how they behave is really a symptom of how regulation in the Internet age are lagging business practices. As far as the UK is concerned, we have competition laws and tax laws that make (sort-of) sense for the way trad as done 30-odd years ago. Internationally, these laws are a mess, and until we get better at agreeing international legal frameworks, fast-moving, highly competitive operators like Amazon will take advantage of loopholes (as do all big businesses). It’ll take many years, and I’m not sure it’s do-able.

    In the meantime, what I would ask is, if you have a local independent bookshop, go visit them this Christmas, and if they deserve to win some of your business, perhaps with innovative services, community involvement, serendipitous book selection or events – buy a book. Amazon has a large table, we can definitely survive on the crumbs that fall off of it!

    1. I think you are spot on – and thank you for your very informed and professional opinion! I want a world where both coexist – call me greedy, but both the online convenience and in-store browsing and expertise appeal to me. In fact, since getting my Kindle (well, my husband got me an Android tablet in an effort to reduce our bookshelves), I have been buying more books of both kinds!

  9. This is a sad reality all over the world. In the town I live in there is still a bookshop open that has been there my entire life. It is one of the old fashioned style book shops selling not only books but also every form of stationery you can think of. Added to this shops success is that the buy who operates it sells most school requirements. You go back in time when you visit his shop, no efpos, no air con, books piled all over the place, you literally have to crawl over books to get from one place to another. Added to that he is the most affable of men, all 80+ years of him. In fact I am visiting him this morning. Thanks for following me Marina, i hope to visit you often.

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