Post by Gill Harrison
My Uncle introduced me to online book buying back in 1995. I hung on his every word but struggled to understand the abstract concept and strange new words. Downloads. E-commerce. Online stores. And something about underground optic fibers and David Bowie selling songs directly to his fans. But buying books and music from a computer? Surely not.
By the end of that same year Amazon.com launched its online shopping site.
I welcome progress. I buy the occasional book online, but I hesitate around new technologies. I like to poke a stick at them from a distance. I resisted mobile phones. I mourned the loss of newspapers. But why?
Nostalgia fuels a fire in my heart. My Uncle (ironically, the same Uncle who introduced me to the idea of buying books online) owned a second hand bookstore in the mid eighties. One of my earliest memories is me at 5 rummaging through the dusty books. I sensed magic lurking in the book shelves. It trickled through the pages of every pre-loved Enid Blyton book.
But more than a longing for the past is a love of the present. The boys and I visit our local bookstore most Tuesday mornings. Katie, the bookstore girl, offers the boys secret jelly beans before we leave. With jelly beans and books clutched in sticky hands we make our way to the park to read and eat. We reward ourselves on Saturday mornings with take away coffee and a wandering through a nearby book/music store. I love these slow rambling mornings. I love them now. Sure the same thought buzzes through my mind each time I hand over my credit card: These books would be soooo much cheaper online. But I swat the thought away before it stings me.
This story is not a new story. I’ve read many blog posts and online articles lamenting the loss of the sensory experience of flicking through real pages. Lovers of the printed word pledge their allegiance to the local bookshop. But what’s the point in resisting? The online bookstores provide convenience and good prices.
Are e-books better for the environment? Will the online shops and e-books always be cheap? This throws up so many questions for me, messy questions that go deeper than words and reading or nostalgia versus technology. For me, it is about deciding where my values lie and what life I want for my children.
I hope bookshops survive. Perhaps they will by embracing the very technology that threatens them. By adding e-books to their stock. By building their own online sales. By focusing on what they can offer over online stores. Community. Connections.
And jelly beans. Give me my e-books and my jelly beans. I’ll be happy with that.
Do you think the local bookshop is doomed?
Is there room in the new world for a balance between old and new book buying?