Saturday 20 February 2010

The End of Bookselling

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 Rhymney Valley and do so with a welcome lack of cloying sentiment. The Abbey on Caldy Island publish Echoes From A Far Shore, a book of reflective verse by the Cistercian monk David Hodges. God celebrated in seascape, prayer and the glory of the skies.

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 West Wales poetry and explanation where the discussion often outguns the actual verse.

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.


Leona said...

Loads of people read this stuff - well, at least my husband and I do in The Insider, on Saturday mornings. I was really pleased to see mention of Lynda Nash's book, and Philip Gross's Eye Spy Pinhole Eye, and also of Ragged Raven press who are publishing a novel by a friend of mine, amongst other things.

Unknown said...

I read it for inspiration; to not feel like a liccle person in a room all on their own, writing and emailing and folding things...! When I was 16 I published 2 x small press poetry mags that sold in your shop, and it was a thrill to think of all the independent writings n makings happening everywhere, that Oriel collected and made alive to a shy, chubby n isolated teenage me. Posts like this have the same effect, really - there's a *scene* out there!Yay!! :)

The Midnight Heart said...

It's a shame that so many independent bookshops in Wales have closed down, though I guess there is a bookshop in the Wales Millenium Centre and in the Dylan Thomas Centre too. I have a wonderful dream of one day setting up a poetry bookshop in Cardiff, though the way things are going with bookselling it is probably a very very unrealistic dream.