Friday, 21 August 2009

Something about ceiling fans

At the end of last month Crockatt & Powell (booksellers to the discerning) shut up shop. It’s not a death, but it causes a jolt nonetheless – a good thing in the world, and one that I’d assumed was carrying on merrily even when I wasn’t paying it attention, has gone, overnight. Early on, I took books into the Lower Marsh shop; numbers were written on a piece of paper; some time later I went back, and a sum of rounded up or rounded down pounds was offered and taken. This is a perfectly reasonable and efficient way of doing business.

Compare Waterstone’s. Wrong time of year, too many books already, they said; sometime later I went back and collected the (unopened) parcel of sample books I’d left for the manager. Now I know: they have a system, I need the nod of the Independent Publisher Co-ordinator. A publishing friend got that nod, sent flyers (along with reviews from the Independent, TLS, Telegraph, etc) to more than 200 individual Waterstone’s managers, resulting in orders for 12 books. This is not efficient. Yet C&P are gone, and W remains.

It’s to do with scale and volume and systems (see last post). But also, people simply don’t read. Not you. I mean the people who run the chain stores, and the publishers who supply the chain stores, and the lit eds who decide what gets attention and what doesn’t. They’re not illiterate; but they read only for work, or only the books they feel they should read.

Fortunately, the folk at Foyles read. And those at John Sandoe, Daunts, Broadway, Crow (all independents) read. As did, and presumably still do, Matthew and Adam of C&P. They read books that the chain stores don’t even know exist. Which shows that ways can be found of putting bread on the table without having to sacrifice the vocation of bookselling to the business of same.

There is, by the way, a fabulous premises in the Goldhawk Road, bang next to the Tube station, that used to be a café and is now vacant; split levels, bare floorboards, garden at the back, those big ceiling fans that waft around lazily. It wants to be a book place: selling, reading, writing, publishing, talking. M, A? Anyone?

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