In the days when I was a bookseller February was like the grave. Who would have thought that six short weeks before the store had been a bedlam of buyers. People who never normally visited the shopping centres of cities suddenly there buying everything in sight. The last minute shopping rush was a joy to behold. Boxed sets, slab-sized coffee table tomes, multi-volume hardbacks, anthologies, books in slip cases with attached pens, maps, driving gloves, diaries or garden secateurs. They all went. Buy now or don’t buy at all. The world ends tomorrow.
But Feb was a different story. Hours of silence. A visit by a traffic warden stepping in out of the cold. An out of town visitor asking directions. Someone with a dictionary they’d been given ten years ago asking if they could exchange it for cash. Publishing dried up too. This might be a new year but nothing fresh was appearing. Who would be interested during the winter dark?
Today, however ,the digital revolution has seen an end to that. Bookshops barely exist in the way they once did. Stock is at a minimum and usually only titles that sales databases say will shift. Pulp bestsellers go at half price from the shelves of supermarkets. Customers no longer come in to ask for that book they heard about on TV the other night, not sure of the author’s name but he had a beard.
If punters really want a book they go for it online. Paper copies via Amazon, downloaded versions next. Goodbye Borders, Lears, Dillon’s, Menzies, Fopp. Hello Appleshop, Gameszone, Abercrombie and Fitch.
But, ever hopeful, the new breed of small independent one-person publishers continues to blossom. Their stock sells hand to hand, via Facebook, Twitter, over the counter in the local coffee shop and among the fake flowers and calendars at Greetingcards-Are-Us. The brand new Cardiff-based Mulfran Press has brought out Lynda Nash’s Ashes of a Valleys Childhood – poems and photographs that recall the 1960s
Dave Lewis’s excellently named Pont Press brings out Layer Cake, twenty-five years of vernacular, edge-walking and thoroughly entertaining verse. Antony Rowe helps Stuart Warner self-publish Echoes of the First Song, a set of
Chris Kinsey’s Cure for a Crooked Smile from Ragged Raven continues to enhance her reputation as a wildlife poet of the first order. Top of the pile is Philip Gross’s set of cracklingly brilliant retakes of Simon Denison’s pinhole camera photographs. Cinnamon Press. Rush for your copy now.
A version of this posting appeared as The Insider in the Western Mail of Saturday February 20th, 2010. Who on earth reads this stuff, I wonder.