‘Ethical’ Book-buying

I’ve been away for quite a while. I won’t bore you with the details but basically there’s been a whole lot going on, both personally and in the world, and not enough time or headspace for everything. But today I felt a little inspired and so decided to ignore the washing up and write instead.

This sunny Sunday morning I had the strongest urge to go be immersed in a lovely (fairly local) independent bookshop I know – The Chiswick Bookshop. I rarely get enough time to go out of my way and visit nowadays but when it opened last year I was so excited. Another indie publisher was taking the leap and opening a physical bookshop and this has been an obsession of mine…well forever.

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If you love books half as much as I do, you can imagine it was heart-breaking to arrive and see some of my most dreaded posters in the window; “We’re closing. Everything half price”. Needless to say, I went inside, pottered around, looked at every book and item on the shelves and felt genuine grief whilst listening to the staff explaining to the mass of customers that they had to close due to the high rent – the terrible epidemic across our high streets. I bought books and shared my apologies with the staff as the only gestures of solidarity I felt I could make. After all, book people are my tribe, and as book people we stick together anyway we can.

As I walked up the high road I got to thinking – about books, bookshops, publishers, about all the empty shops I passed and all the big chain restaurants, stores and bad coffee shops that surrounded me and I settled on something. I realised  my own personal sense of ‘ethical’ shopping, particularly shopping for books. This isn’t going to change anything really, it won’t force landlords to bring down rents so that we can continue to have the pleasure of independent shops, it won’t necessarily stop any businesses from going under, it won’t change the world that is for sure. But when I do shop, these small principles drive how I do it and I hadn’t realised before that they were even in my head.

  1. If I see a book I want (and can afford at the time) in a physical bookshop, I buy it.
    I’m in the bookshop browsing, using their resources and time, benefitting from their curation and expertise. The least I can do is buy the book I see and want in that environment from the people who allowed me to.

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  2. I try very hard not to take my phone out in a bookshop (but if I do, I will buy a book from the shop).
    Remember Bernerd Black’s rule – “No phones”? I got it then and I get it now. Perhaps it’s because I have worked in retail and have seen ‘show-housing’ from the business side but to me if you get your phone out in a shop it tends to look like your looking the product up online (perhaps an unfair generalisation but I have known people to do it…ALOT…with no reservation or embarrassment) or actually BUYING the book online where you stand! This is without a doubt the worst thing a customer can do in my mind other than spitting in your face (and I’ve had a few customers sneeze and cough in my face over the years) so just do me a favour and stop visiting shops if this is you!

    There is rarely a time you need to look at your phone in a shop, particularly a bookshop, books aren’t the sort of thing you can buy whilst staring at a screen. But fair enough you might get a call or text that you “absolutely must take” – you don’t have to take it in the shop though. So my rule is, don’t look at your phone, focus on what you’re buying and if you do ‘trip up’ then buy a book. You’ll soon spend less time looking at your phone in shops (it can get expensive)!

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  3. For every book bought on Amazon or as an ebook, buy a book in a physical bookshop too.
    I’m not going to lie – I buy on Amazon occasionally and I have a Kindle (funnily enough I had avoided this like the plague until being surrounded by publishers who owned them, who asked if I had one “as it will make some of the work easier”). Actually, it’s rare I buy a physical book from Amazon (I don’t live so very far from several indie bookshops) – if I fancy an instantaneous read (usually late at night) then I buy an ebook. It happens. I have learned to limit my guilt by making sure for every book I buy in this way, I buy a book in a physical bookshop for balance soon after. It makes me feel better, it means I don’t get too lazy, I get to enjoy pretty books in their natural habitat and later implant them into my natural habitat – I feel it’s a win win situation.

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  4. I never argue about the price of a book (even an ebook).
    I never argue, I may decide not to buy, but I don’t go searching it out cheaper elsewhere. Books have a value – it should never come down to who is selling it cheaper (at least not for me). If I won’t pay what is being charged for it then do I really want it? Do I really need it? Probably not. If I want a book enough then I have no qualms paying full price for it or taking advantage if it so happens to be discounted when I do see it. Personally there are some books which, once read, I will say are worth far more than their cover price because of the enjoyment I got out of them or vice versa. The one thing I can say for sure is that a book must surely be worth more than the price of that coffee in town!

There you go – four points – as I said they won’t change the world but I feel better for acknowledging that they live in my brain, guiding my book shopping habits and I feel quite ok with telling you about them.

If you happen to be in Chiswick over the next three days, pop into The Chiswick Bookshop – show them some solidarity, either through a sale or your words. As I said earlier, we  book people need to stick together.

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The Chiswick Bookshop

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After a number of years watching independent bookshop numbers decline in the UK we are finally starting to see a number of new independent bookshops opening their doors, from Rogan’s Books in Bedford to the unnamed bookshop/venue aimed at millennials to open on Brick Lane. Though I consider any new bookshops opening to be a treat and a overall a good sign I have a favourite newby – one that just happens to be on my doorstop. This is The Chiswick Bookshop on Turnham Green Terrace. Don’t get me wrong, the surrounding area has a number of wonderful bookshops, and I feel insanely lucky to live so close to Richmond and Chiswick, where I believe I can now count at least seven amazing independent bookshops within easy reach but as newcomers go I have a real soft spot for The Chiswick Bookshop.

The Chiswick Bookshop comes to us from publisher Hyde Park Editions and is run by the publisher’s sales manager, Emily Crane. One of the most beautiful shops on the road, it offers a range of beautiful books as well as gifts and offers that tranquil atmosphere I remember from bookshops from my youth. From the moment you walk through those doors there is no pressure, you are free to browse and enjoy the many books on display as well as have a friendly chat with Emily behind the counter.

What I love most perhaps is that this is another book shop coming from a publisher (and in fact Hyde Park Editions is based in the back office). This is by no means a new idea, there are in fact many out there who do it, including; Daunt Books, Persephone Books (both in London) and Shakespeare and Company (in Paris) to name a few. Years ago this was in fact pretty standard practice for many publishing houses but it has fallen away over the years, yet this is a business model within bookselling that I have been determined for some time will continue to expand. As they say you have to “look to the past to see the future” and it in this instance that I believe the publishing industry should sit up and listen. After all, this is one sure fire way in which you can learn what your customers and potential customers most desire. Booksellers are at the frontline of the bookselling process. Many have given the opinion that publishers should offer stronger support to independent booksellers but I am of a slightly differing opinion, that they should be joining forces.

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I hope very much that this is a trend that we continue to see in the bookselling world and one that I hope will thrive for those who have already stepped forward. There are many other adjustments that I believe it is necessary to make to the standard bookselling business model but this, in my opinion, seems the logical first step and one of the strongest possibilities out there. It is a step I would make in a heartbeat and maybe one that I will have the opportunity to take for myself…

Follow The Chiswick Bookshop on Twitter and show them some support @chiswickbooks