The future of sharing books with children – no.1 – booksellers

Let me start this off by saying that I feel incredibly guilty for not using what precious little blogging time I have over the summer hols to write a review of one of the MANY books that have been neatly stacked in my blogging box next to the sofa for what seems like forever.  The boys and I have had an awesome few weeks and I will miss them immensely when C starts school and H starts a couple of pre-school sessions, but at least I am now consoling myself with the thought that I’ll have plenty of gorgeous books to write about to distract me.

Anyway, the premise of sharing book recommendations flows nicely into what I *am* writing about in this post.  During the course of a recent long car journey, I was discussing with M some links I’d seen posted on Twitter, one of which was this one about the closure of a well established independent children’s bookshop in Richmond.  In summary, this beautiful bookshop is shutting its doors thanks to financial pressures, not the least of which is noted as the ‘Amazon effect’ (I’m guessing this needs no further explanation).

I’m sure I’ve mentioned in another post that my lifelong ambition was to own somewhere pretty much identical to ‘The Shop Around The Corner’ in the Meg Ryan film, ‘You’ve Got Mail’ (though probably with even more fairy lights.  And some bunting.  And probably an overflowing cake stand as well….).  Many times during my adult life I have daydreamed about this, but even without considering its long term prospects, I still can’t foresee a time when I’d have the necessary capital to even get started.

M knows all of the above, but after I’d read the article to him he  immediately said that he wasn’t surprised and that he didn’t think it would be too long before virtually all bookshops – independent and those that are part of a chain – were out of business.  Although (as I sobbed quietly into my seatbelt) he was at pains to point out that this wasn’t something he was pleased about, he made a few statements that really got me thinking. I’ve tried to summarise these thoughts concisely but as usual have failed miserably, so will instead try and split them into a few shorter posts, probably containing more questions than anything else, but hey ho.

Firstly, he rightly pointed out that I – a huge lover of books – rarely go into a bookshop and buy a book.  Other than our local Oxfam bookshop (where clearly I am buying second hand books), he’s absolutely right.  This is mainly because I spend so much time reading about books online – often before the books have even been published – and in this way I learn about titles that are often not represented in our local chain bookshop.  I realise that I could order books through the shop and have done this in the past, but with lead times of up to four weeks, it just doesn’t compare with the alternative of sourcing books online.

However, I am aware that just because I spend a lot of time reading about new books, it doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone else will have the means or inclination to do so.  How do those people find out about new, or new-to-them, books?

There is also the conundrum of how to let children browse for their own books.  I would like to expand C and H’s choices beyond the very mainstream books available in our local bookshop, but I understand it would be logistically impossible for them to look through every available book before choosing each time.  We use the library (and sometimes bookshops) as a reference tool and browse through many titles on each visit, taking some home with us and then every so often purchasing our very-favourite-tried-and-tested ones.  I’ll come back to libraries in a later post, but at least this method allows C and H to physically handle books in order to develop their own preferences about what they’d like to read.  How would that be possible without bookshops / libraries?

I know that bookshops can’t exist simply as a means for people to browse books (indeed, the Lion and Unicorn in Richmond stated the increase in this practice as a contributory factor in its demise) but if bookshops AND libraries disappear then how will we ever leaf through a book to work out if we like it or not?

M’s argument here was that, soon enough, publishers will have organised the ‘system’ (I’m still a little vague about the details of this ‘system’) so that each and every book will have a user-friendly ‘look inside’ option (better than the one offered by Amazon at the moment, I think) so that adults and children can effectively browse online, eliminating the need to see a physical copy before you buy.  I’m not sure whether or not this is true (surely there might be copyright complications for starters?), but it’s obviously not a physical impossibility.

How will this impact upon the way children choose books?  I can’t be the only one who enjoys stroking pages and subtly smelling books, just trying to inhale some of their magic?  (I am???  Righto.  Taxi for one………)  Given that there are budgetary constraints for most of us meaning that we can’t just fill our house with books, will future children ever experience that wonder of being in a bookshop or library and being completely surrounded by books?

Also, will parents want their very young children spending hours staring at a screen on an expensive computer to choose books?  If they’re keen on electronic equipment, will it become the case that all books are read on screens rather than hard copies?  This post, by Seth Godin, paints (to me) quite a stark picture, but perhaps I need to wake up and smell the screen cleaner?  I personally don’t see how children’s books could ever be read only on screens, but then who’s to say I’m not just being nostalgic and clinging to a rose-tinted remembrance of my own childhood?  Maybe the way forward is to embrace the fact that it shouldn’t matter what, where, when, why and how children read, but simply that they *do* read?

Your thoughts on this are most welcome and I look forward to chatting with people about this.  I know I’m not hypothesising about anything new or ground-breaking, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth discussing again.  Ooh, and as a teaser, the next post is about libraries.

TTFN

Update…  Thank you so much for the great response to this post already – I’m so pleased to be able to discuss all sides of this issue.  I’ve been pointed in the direction of the following two articles by @damyantipatel and @TimHopgood respectively, both of which are well worth a read:

1)  A Nosy Crow blog post about the importance (or not) of book reviews – the comments are interesting as well.

2)  A blog post by Mal Peet about the book industry in New Zealand (a place without Amazon or Ikea!).

 

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11 comments

  1. Interesting post Loll! I hope we don’t lose bookshops altogether (though I am similar in doing probably 80% of my book buying online!) I wonder if there will be more combined venues such as soft play-come cafe-come bookshops, where there is something other than book buying to be done, and it is almost the icing on the cake to take away with you after a morning playing, chatting etc. I also wonder if things might improve if the economy picks up, as buying books does feel quite luxurious at the moment and it is harder to just pick up a new book on a whim rather than for birthdays, Christmas etc – perhaps the outlook isn’t set in stone?

    1. Hi Helen! I fervently hope the same thing – it would be awful to have no bookshops at all 😦 However, I think you might be right when you suggest that perhaps they will be combined with other things so that people’s livelihoods aren’t dependent purely on selling the books. Even in those environments though, I would still worry that people might browse through the selection and then go home and order them online…
      I’d like to think that it was possible to create some sort of venue – be it a permanent one like a shop, or a mobile one of some sort (I’ve not thought through the details!!!) – where people could go to just enjoy reading, to look at books, hear stories and to relax and soak up the awesomeness, as well as being able to talk to someone about book recommendations. Clearly what I’ve just described is a library (!) but I just don’t know that they have the funding to do all of these things all of the time. Our local library is brilliant, but as far as I’m aware there isn’t a designated children’s librarian.
      Also, I wonder if libraries have experienced an upturn in fortunes if less books are being sold? I suppose it makes me sad that books should ever be considered a luxury item as opposed to a necessity and therefore when economic circumstances dictate that we can’t afford to buy as many of them (and I’m definitely including myself in that number!) that people would proactively source books elsewhere, hence the wondering about whether libraries now have more visitors. I wonder if there’s any data available on this?
      I wish there was some way for booksellers and libraries to combine forces… Anyway, I shall stop now and carry on with these thoughts in my libraries post 🙂

      1. You’re right it IS sad that I kind of consider books a luxury item not a necessity at the moment, and I didn’t really realise it till commenting!

      2. Mind you, it hasn’t stopped me buying them completely 😉

  2. A great post. I too adore the smell and feel if books, both new and old. My almost 2 year old adores books and has her own little library already. Going to the library and book shop is something that she looks forward to, so I hope that no matter how much she is influenced by technology she still loves licking her fingers ( copying of dad!) to turn the pages of gorgeous books. Price really is the key for a lot of people though and unfortunately Amazon are ruthless in treading over indies. I go out and about storytelling and there is a definite love of books out there!

    1. Thanks for commenting, Deb – it’s very reassuring to hear that I’m not the only book stroker out there 😉 It’s lovely that your daughter is such a book fan as well – my feeling is that young children’s immersion into the world of technology is inevitable (and, of course, it has its benefits) but that the holy grail is striking the balance between that and the ‘real’ world, which in this case obviously means exposure to real books.
      I also enjoy running storytelling sessions and absolutely feel that children are still drawn in by the magic of books. I suppose my worry is that, as the Seth Godin post mentions, there are people growing up having not ever really read for pleasure and that this is the message that could be passed on to children in the future. Perhaps I should be thinking more about everyone enjoying books and reading rather than just children – it’s a bit of a ‘chicken and egg’ situation!

  3. Mrs Bully · · Reply

    Not had chance to read all the comments but I found your post very interesting. Can’t help wondering if the demise of the book shop is just part of the whole demise of the high street. Small, independent business of every variety are struggling to stay open. In our local village we have seen a Newsagent (who also sold a load of books and craft supplies) and a Greengrocer close in the past 6 months. Both businesses were well established but couldn’t compete with a new supermarket that has come to the village. I wonder whether in time the book selection in supermarkets will extend beyond the ‘best sellers’ and that will be the only place (other than the library) where we can get our hands on a book to try before you buy.
    It’s sad but I know myself that as nice as it is to visit the independent shops the bank balance prefers the supermarket!

  4. Thanks for all the insight and supplementary articles included here.The only way to keep on top of the book scene, in my opinion, is online and in the press. Even the independent bookshops need to rely on safe sellers the majority of the time and the selection generally reflects this. As far as screens are concerned … I try to embrace them but I also work hard to present an alternative. My toddler regularly sees his parents reading books, newspapers and magazines. I think it’s important that we reinforce their reading habits by showing them good reading habits ourselves.

  5. […] published a piece on the future of sharing books with children, covering the future of bookshops and reading. It’s really thoughtful and I’d encourage […]

  6. […] leading on (quite some time later, I know!) from my previous post about the future of booksellers, the next thing M and I discussed was the future of […]

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