Do book shops need to become book clubs?
Many 'bricks and mortar' bookshops are struggling, but their function is still hard to replace
Posted on: 13th February 2013
All regular readers of this blog will know that I am a great believer in the potential of the internet to increase human liberty. The internet makes it easier for people to share information, while at the same time making it more difficult for governments to control what information is shared.
I believe that we have already seen some of the effects of the internet's liberating power in the so-called 'Arab spring'.
The internet is also revolutionising the publishing industry. I see this is a good thing, because digital publishing has greatly reduced the barriers that we need to negotiate in order to creating a book. It is very easy now for anyone to create a book, and that is surely a good thing for freedom of expression.
However, the effects of the digital revolution are also making things difficult for traditional 'bricks and mortar' bookshops, who are seeing falling sales due to the growth of online retailers. We have seen many shops close, and even large chain stores struggling.
And yet the appeal of a physical location for readers to gather and discover new books has not faded. A recent blog on Publishing Perspectives drew attention to the trend in Korea for publishers to start opening their own bookshop cafes. As the manager of one of these cafes says:
"We feel it’s important to have a physical place to display the books and interact with the people, in spite of the increasing number of online bookstores. "
As the blog also points out, some US publishers are also opening their own stores. I would like to see this trend develop in the UK, too.
Do bookshops need to become book clubs?
A documentary on radio 4 recently threw up some interesting ideas about the future for publishing. Towards the end (about 24:30), it was suggested that the future for the physical bookshops may lie in becoming book clubs - where members pay a fee and can enjoy the advantages of the unique bookshop/meeting place/coffee store/library/internet cafe.
I like the idea of a JJ Books book club opening one day. It would hold regular readings and exhibitions, and be decorated with beautiful illustrations. As I wrote before, the environment that we find in a good bookstore is now something that is hard to match.
The internet has brought us many advantages, allowing people on opposite sides of the world to communicate with each other instantly, easily and cheaply. However, in my view it will never replace the importance of face to face contact. Books should bring people together. That's why I think that the 'physicality' of publishing - whether through collectible hardbacks, bookshops or book clubs - will always be important.