Thursday, February 17, 2011

Decline and Fall

I don't suppose we'll need this any more:

At its best, bookselling is a noble profession, full of people who have accepted genteel poverty as a price worth paying for truth and beauty. I always felt a bit of a fraud, as my main motive was to avoid having to do a proper job; however, I think I've earned my stripes.

During the last few weeks, several high street chains have gone to the wall: Borders, Angus and Robertson and British Bookshops (not a proper bookseller, but try telling that to the people who've lost their jobs). It's all very sad.

What will happen to the next generation of feckless students who don't know what they want to do, but do know what they don't want to do?

9 comments:

JRSM said...

As an Australian, it's hard for me to get upset about the collapse of Angus & Robertson. Their shops tended to be pretty badly stocked (for example, the main central city store in Adelaide doesn't even have a classics section--it's all commercial fiction, true crime and road atlases), and for the past few years they routinely added 10% to the publishers' recommended retail price. Why anyone would shop there has mystified me for some time.

Steerforth said...

Oh well, good riddance then. They sound more like the dreadful British Bookshops, who killed off a lot of good independents when Amazon was a mere twinkle in Jeff Bezoz's eye.

But I lament the passing of bookselling as a career option.

Anonymous said...

Actually it isn't just those students who want to sell books (and read them in their 'spare' time)...I feel sorry for today's young people in a lot of ways. The world is a very scary place, wth terrorists and corporate raiders and Somali pirates and the like.

Then I read Ken Follett's "Fall of Giants" and was reminded that during the early years of the 20th century, if you weren't worrying that you or someone you cared about might die in a partiularly horrible war, you could always worry about them dying from the Spanish 'flu or losing their livelihood (if not their lives and limbs) in strikes in Russia, Ireland, the Welsh coal mines, etc. etc. Plus women couldn't vote and there were no antibiotics to fight disease.

So perhaps nothing has really changed except the names. As a friend of my father's was fond of saying, "Three thousand years -- big deal. Electric lights."

Canadian Chickadee

WPLJ said...

Steerforth: I have to ask - was the Ottakers you ran the one in Eastbourne? That wasn't a bad shop at all.

However Eastbourne benefits from a couple of superb second-hand bookshops so we're not too starved here.

The Poet Laura-eate said...

I think books will enjoy a renaissance as Kindle backlash sets in. I'm just hoping it will be sooner rather than later.

Very sad that there are currently so few opportunities for young, dreamy but well-read men though.

In fact I think one of the reasons everyone is beginning to hate work so much is because it is increasingly losing all semblance of soul as it becomes corporatised to a degree that no one wants.

Steerforth said...

You're quite right Laura. I was a dreamy young man who was completely unsuited to most jobs. I didn't want to be a cog in a machine, where I couldn't see the direct results of my work and bookselling offered a relatively bullshit-free environment.

A lot of work is dehumanising - I was very interested to hear the American philosopher Matthew Crawford explain why he swapped office work for a motorcycle repair shop (here's the link: http://www.amazon.com/Shop-Class-Soulcraft-Inquiry-Value/dp/1594202230)

WPLJ - No, I didn't run that branch of Ottakar's. I believe that it was one of the most profitable branches in the country and the manager really seemed to know his stuff. Sadly, HMV decided to turn it into a music store and the manager had to spend his last days dismantling the shop he had spent years building up. A sad end (but on a happier note, he went on to open a successful independent bookshop which continues to thrive to this day).

Chickadee - Yes, times do seem to be getting tougher again. I envy the generation before mine who, once their children had grown up, seemed to spend half of the year going on exotic holidays.

Martin H. said...

We've had three or four independent bookshops in the local market town of Romsey, in about as many years. Maybe anyone thinking of starting up in this business, should read a 'How To' book, first. It's tough, but it can be done successfully.

Anonymous said...

Amen to that, Steerforth. Those were the days when travel was actually fun too, and one didn't have to do a strip tease to get on a plane.

And speaking of flying, when I am dashing around the house multitasking, I sometimes marvel that when I was a girl, my mother actually had a woman who came in daily to help. My daily help is a mop!! LOL
Have a great weekend.

Canadian Chickadee

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Well you were more evolved than I Steerforth. I had no idea what I wanted to do as a dreamy young girl and was far too naive to be particularly cynical one way or another, except I could never have worked for someone obviously evil such as an arms dealer. I just happened to get a job in a card shop and drifted through a series of dead end jobs which left me plenty of time to stare into space from there.