Sameer Rahim in The Telegraph mourns the loss of yet another independent London bookshop, and wonders whether the writing on the wall for literature in a piece aptly called Apoca-Lit:The death of independent bookshops is just one symptom of a much wider crisis in publishing. Discounted books, online bookselling and the advent of ebooks are destroying old patterns of reading and book buying. We are living through a revolution as enormous as the one created by Gutenberg’s printing press – and authors and publishers are terrified they will become as outdated as the monks who copied out manuscripts. How this happened is down to ambitious editors, greedy agents, demanding writers and big businesses with an eye for easy profit. Combine that with devilishly fast technological innovation and you have a story as astonishing as the credit crunch – and potentially as destructive.
We are living through a moment when all the balls have been thrown in the air and no one is sure where they will land. In the digital age, will publishers and agents survive in their current form? Derek Johns argues that “authors need agents as first readers and financial advisers” and someone will have to collate and distribute books whether in bound or ebook form. But will they? How long can it be before Tesco (which already has a 10 per cent share of the book market) stops dealing with fussy publishers and brands its own books? The ebook is also changing things dramatically. The iPad arrives in this country next month and looks set to put the Sony Reader out of commission. Perhaps more significantly, ebooks will allow writers to bypass agents, publishers and bookshops by launching their work on the web or exchanging it quickly among themselves. The extra costs involved in manufacturing books will inevitably come to make them seem a luxury and make the bound book as obsolete as vinyl. ... Without some form of institutional support, there is a risk that only the trashy and the brilliant will thrive. That might sound like a bracingly efficient way of doing things, but the wonder of books is that no one can ever be sure how important they might be – or who might start slowly and then turn, eventually, into a genius. The careers of many authors show that the mercurial and the eccentric often take a long time to be appreciated. Abolishing the gatekeepers – however excessive or peculiar they may be – will not help reveal all those hidden talents to public view. Instead, the danger is our bookshelves will come to resemble a long line of branded baked beans.In case you think this is an alarmist view look at what Simon-Peter Trimarco, manager, of the Kilburn Bookshops says about the business shutting down:
I'm trying to put down my thoughts about where I see the industry going, and realize that I think the whole industry is going to fail in the next couple of years. Dillons, Ottakar's, Hammicks have all gone; Borders went bankrupt in December; Waterstone's has obviously been struggling for ages; most independents have closed, or will do soon; and those stalwarts and new shops which (we are told) are "thriving" are situated in out-of-the-way places and in very affluent neighbourhoods with no competition for the mass market.And he foresees that :
Soon there won't be enough shops for publishers to get a new title stocked and sold - then they'll start failing too. We’ve had to suffer the online folk like Amazon and the big chains and supermarkets demanding huge discounts in order to discount themselves to oblivion.
... once almost all the bookshops have closed, Amazon, or some similar mega-company, will start opening little Browsing Bookshops. It'll be like TescoMetro or Starbucks: first put all the other shops and suppliers out of business, then go in there yourself and tell everyone what a great job you do, a great service to the "consumer", that we‘ve never had it so good.
Previous posts about Independent bookshops here.