Is it Perhaps Terminal?

The number of independent bookshops closing in the UK has reached frighteningly high proportions, and this trend is likely to continue.

The total number of independents has already fallen below one thousand for the first time as a combination of Amazon, ebooks and high-street rent increases puts them out of business. Sixty-seven bookshops closed last year, leaving just 987 in the country, whereas in 2005 the number was 1,535. The figures were released by the Booksellers Association (BA) with the warning that the situation has reached crisis point.

Tim Godfray, the chief executive of the BA, said: ‘The book trade, the government and the general public need to realise that if we don’t take action now the future of our bookshops – and therefore the health of the publishing industry and reading itself – is at risk.’

Among the closures last year was the Lion & Unicorn bookshop in Richmond, London, which closed its doors after thirty-six years. It was one of the few booksellers in the UK devoted solely to children’s books and Roald Dahl was the guest of honour at its opening in 1977.

Amazon and other online retailers are held to be the chief reason behind the decline, along with supermarkets offering hefty discounts. The rise of e-readers such as Kindle has also played a part.

In addition, high rents are making life extremely difficult for shop owners – while parking charges are deterring customers. The BA said there was some reason to take heart – twenty-six independent bookshops opened last year – but unfortunately this year will see more closures.

The latest victim is the Ibis bookshop in Banstead which will close next month after seventy-six years. It is believed to be the oldest independent bookshop in the country. The owner, Linda Jones, said: ‘Customers had pledged £62,000 towards buying the lease in an attempt to keep the shop open and protect it from rising rents but it was not enough. Amazon has been our biggest problem. People don’t want to purchase from shops any more. It’s a different generation. I feel so angry about what they have done to our industry. Independent bookshops created a sense of community that Amazon cannot match.’ Ms Jones added: ‘People need to support bookshops. There is the ideology of “Oh isn’t it wonderful having the shops in our towns – it makes us look so cultured.” But still people shop on Amazon. If they don’t vote with their feet and walk into a bookshop then bookshops are not going to be there any more.’

This is definitely a cry for help. Can we as a cultured nation – at least I hope we are still – give up an essential part of our heritage and do away with bookshops for the sake of expediency, or for what we call technological advancement, that if not contained will rob us of the pleasure of having a book to hold, instead of watching a screen flickering with light painful to the eyes?

Kindle or no Kindle, give me a proper book any time, which I can look at and caress as if it were a beautiful woman. Who can, I may ask, tire from such a physical attachment?

Whoever said ‘let’s go back to basics’, perhaps, is half the fool we made him up to be.

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