I love walk-in bookshops – I find it very hard to pass one by, on the street, without walking in for a browse. But how often do I physically buy a book in a store? Not often. Although I love the atmosphere, the layout (especially in Waterstone’s, although not enough of them have a coffee shop) and I obviously love the opportunity to pick up a book, to hold it in my hands, and yes – dare I say it – even smell the paper (I literally will have my nose stuck in a book!) – you can’t beat a good sniff of a high-quality book. But when it comes to buying the book itself, it will invariably be from Amazon, or from one of the speciality on-line booksellers. This does not bode well for my own (pipe) dream of owning my own bookshop – I had it all planned out in my head, you know. It would have mahogany-panelled walls, with matching shelves, dim overhead lighting, but with armchairs and lamps. You could get a decent coffee or tea, without the pretentious branding (and you could buy a small or a large cup, not a medium or large - clearly, there’s no medium, if there’s no small – a concept Starbuck’s still fails to grasp). It would have thousands of volumes to choose from, and none of them would be bumped or damaged (they’d never pass the strict Quality Checks) and everyone who came in would do so for the love of bo0oks, and never crack the spines when no-one was looking. But I myself am typical of the reason this will never happen – without the overheads (and I could never run a shop like that unless I was rich enough never to have to rely on it for a living) the on-line store are able to discount heavily, they sell more, their buying power increases, they get better discounts, and they discount further. And so it goes on.
Amazon, of course, is the most popular of all the on-line book stores, and are believed to have 80% of the on-line share, according to recent research. Ten times as many people shop at Amazon than online at Waterstone's, a survey has revealed, while more than half of respondents bought books online. The research, carried out by the Institute of Direct Marketing, showed that 80% of some 2,000 readers surveyed bought books from Amazon, in comparison to just 8% of people who shopped at the high street book retailer’s website. The figures also revealed that the proportion of those who shopped at Waterstone's stores, 23%, was equal to the number of people who bought books from supermarkets, also at 23%. Slightly fewer consumers, 21%, said they bought titles from WH Smith.
But of course, there are exceptions to every rule – if you want a signed, lined and dated first edition, you’re unlikely to get one from Amazon. Ditto for remarqued (sketched) copies, that have been through the hands of the cover artist or interior illustrator. Hopefully, there will always be a place for the “niche” bookseller...........