Thursday, 28 February 2008
Showing them off
It really wasn’t that long ago that Foyles had a payment system ‘apparently designed by a Victorian lunatic’ (John Walsh): to buy a book you first had to decode the shelving system, then queue to get an invoice, then take the invoice to someone in a zoo cage and pay your money, then take the receipt back to the person at the first desk (who in the meantime had been sacked).
These days, the people there like books, and know about them and how to sell them too. This isn’t a cosy place, in the way the smaller independents can be; any retail space over a certain size now aspires to the condition of an airport departure lounge (swivel that stand and you expect to pick up a pair of sunglasses, before moving on to the duty fee); but the shelves hold surprises and indicate that the buyers are free to choose what they buy (the CBe books, for example, are just in the Charing Cross Road shop; and yesterday I noticed some Dalkey Archive titles in the South Bank shop that are not in Charing Cross Road).
If publishing is about choice and making good writing available to readers, then the independent stores that take books from small presses, and bring in books from abroad, are effectively publishing as well as selling. One step further would be this: independent stores with their own imprints, editing and designing and printing their own choice of books. (City Lights is the obvious precedent.) The only reason why I can’t point to present examples of this (beyond the occasional one-off book) is, perhaps, because the folk who run the independent stores already work all hours of the day and are up to and beyond their borrowing limits. But it will happen.