Sunday, 5 December 2010

A spineless act...

Around this time last year Borders UK went into administration, with all of its bookshoops closing down before we all had a chance to join hands and sing Auld Lang Syne to welcome in 2010. As an occasional browser and even more infrequent purchaser of books it was something of a mixed blessing; its rapid progress from announcement to formal closure meant that its store in Leeds - as elsewhere in the country - flogged off its stock at a fraction of the original retail prices, just in time for Christmas. That its closure was perhaps due in part to the sort of retail habits I displayed multiplied across the general population was perhaps by-the-by; it was still one of the high street Usual Suspects that I genuinely didn't mind spending some time in if I had to.

Since then the baton of city centre-based new books has fallen to Borders' erstwhile competitor Waterstone's, who no doubt jumped for joy at their procurement of a virtual monopoly on this lucrative market almost by chance. Which makes this announcement slightly worrying.

The company are to trial a 'face out'-only display of its non-fiction books in selected stores but may subsequently decide to roll it out across the country. The idea is to display all books by their front cover rather than by their spine, the net result being that one hefty tome 'face out' will take up the space of three or four such titles displayed 'spine out'. This, of course, means less choice for the punter.

Obviously this will cause a lot of concern for those involved in writing and publishing non-fiction, but the customer also has much to fear. Fewer titles means a restriction in the diffusion of knowledge, and the current vogue for ghost-written celebrity memoirs by every conceivable Z-lister under the sun means that genuinely scholarly works may feel the squeeze more than most. Given that Waterstone's now has few real rivals the knock-on effect could have serious consequences...

3 comments:

Tom Ruffles said...

At least you got another bookshop, DR, when the Cambridge Borders closed it was snapped up by T K Maxx. Borders was my refuge on shopping trips, so I miss it keenly. We also lost Galloway and Porter a while back, which means that for a university town there is a surprisingly small choice in the way of bookshops.

The Waterstones announcement may be linked to the demand for money from publishers for the display of books - you can charge for displaying a book but not for just having it on the shelf. This cropped up a while back as W H Smith were charging publishers large amounts for prime spots, and squeezing out small publishers who couldn't pay.

Tom Ruffles said...

Perhaps I should add in fairness that we already have a Waterstones and Heffers. The latter I particularly like as they put on talks and get some interesting authors.

Alex said...

I now buy from Grove Books in Ilkley (when I go up there on a rare Saturday foray) or buy from independent bookshops via Amazon etc. Not ideal but Waterstones is not useful for me. I pretty much only buy history books these days and the stock they hold in the Leeds store is very poor. Cover facing stock is a terrible way to try and remain a viable business when their issue is to do with quality of stock.