Have web retailers killed the local bookshop?

It’s a commonly known fact that independent book stores are in huge decline, thanks to the development of online retailers like Amazon, who not only sell books but also developed the Kindle, sp

It’s a commonly known fact that independent book stores are in huge decline, thanks to the development of online retailers like Amazon, who not only sell books but also developed the Kindle, sparking off a huge demand for e-readers.

The Guardian recently reported that there are now a third fewer local bookshops than nine years ago, with a dismal total of under 1,000. Wherever you’re from, you won’t have to journey far to find an empty shop space where a local book store used to be.

While it’s undeniable that the decline of the book store is largely due to websites like Amazon, The Book Depository and even eBay, can online retailers be solely blamed? Or is it as much about our own ignorance of small businesses, and our own desire for quick and easy purchases that are delivered straight to our front door?

Ease of ordering

Amazon, the king of online retail, is still mostly known for its original source of sales – books. As opposed to a bookshop, Amazon has almost unlimited supplies of every book you could ever need. You can even find original editions, leather bound copies, various translations, and all with a choice of postage and packaging.

If a book store doesn’t have the text you need they can order it for you, but that can take a week or more. With Amazon, you can have your package delivered the very next day. It is impossible to deny that Amazon has removed the difficulty of finding the book you need or want, and the length of time you need to wait in order to receive it. Prices online are also considerably cheaper than in the local bookshop, particularly as there are options to buy secondhand books from only 1p.

The click of a button

Amazon also launched the worldwide desire for an e-reader, with the development of the Kindle. Soon, almost everyone on the Tube and bus were flicking their way through a Kindle, rather than a hard copy of a book. Subsequent developments in tablets all include a book function, or at least a Kindle app.

Kindle has developed roughly 810,000 books in six different languages, and are still progressing with more. Classics such as Dickens, Defoe, Bronte and more can be found for free, while prices of a Kindle novel are usually priced at half that of a normal paperback.

Having a Kindle also means instant downloads, and the ease of only carrying one item that fits easily into your bag.

But are we to blame?

These days, it’s easier than ever to blame big corporations for breaking the little man. But is it time to look at ourselves and our own part in the decline of independent bookshops? As easy as it is to order online, too many of us do it without thinking twice.

It would take only a small amount of forward planning to purchase one or two items on your reading list from the local bookshop, rather than Amazon. Even small sales can hugely boost the overall turnover of a small independent business.

Encouraging children to use the local book store also helps them with library skills, as it it teaches them how to find particular authors. Physically engaging with hard copies of texts also gets them more involved and interested with books.

A recent story online showed that people are still willing to preserve the independent bookshop. A small local store in West Yorkshire made an impassioned plea on Facebook earlier this year after takings fell to only £7.50. People responded immediately by rushing to the store to buy a book, even if they didn’t want or need it.

The word spread, and the store had their busiest day ever, leaving the owners with enough to finally pay the electricity and water bills, and make a small profit. This charming story seems to show that, as a public, we aren’t purposefully trying to outcast the independent bookshop, we’ve just forgotten that they’re there.

As someone who recently converted to a Kindle for ease of transportation and a student budget, it seems to me that the bookshop is sorely overlooked, but not completely rejected yet. Boutique bookshops like Treadwell’s will always do well, surviving due to people’s desire to be individual.

We all still enjoy a used book fair, and thumbing through countless volumes at jumble sales, just for the joy of finding interesting reads and great bargains. Perhaps the error lies in our way of thinking – that the local bookshop is too expensive and has nothing of uniqueness or interest in it.

One thing is for sure – it’s worth our time to try and revive the local book store. Not only does this create more jobs in our communities, but also makes sure the worlds of publishing and editing remain thriving.

Online purchasing and publication has only served to damage traditonal publishing houses, which has knock on effects for almost all major publications. With a little care, we could ensure that local book stores say open for many years to come.

On the plus side, Waterstones are planning to open more stores this year, after a steady increase in business. Maybe change is already underway.

What do you think? Are independent bookshops on the way out? Or can they still thrive in the internet age? Have your say in the comments section below.