The news that Amazon has opened a bookshop in Seattle is perhaps less surprising than the reaction of rival Waterstones in wishing it "falls flat on its face". Surely we should celebrate their recognition of the role bricks-and-mortar bookshops play in linking communities and individuals to books and the pleasures of reading?
The 896 independent bookshops in the UK already know that people love bookshops. A good indie bookshop is a barometer of a town; a good place to head if you want a taste of local history and interests and possibly also local delicacies with coffee. Often acting as a community hub, bookshops work alongside local schools and groups to link books and authors to readers. With their individually curated stock, recommendations, events and reading groups, they are staffed by friendly locals and passionate readers, keen to serve their customers well.
Small and scaled back, the Amazon bookstore will house between 5,000 and 6,000 titles and only those rated four stars and above. With 184,000 new and revised titles published annually (International Publishers Association 2013 figures) there is plenty for bookshops to differentiate and create their own unique space in the market. And there the magic lies. No two bookshops are the same; each has a unique twist, whether it’s a resident cat, famous local author, quirky staircase, chocolate brownie to-die-for or amazing selection of knitting titles. Physical bookshops are places of discovery, distraction and delight.
Over recent days a stream of families came into our bookshop to buy tickets for the local bonfire night celebrations. "We loved it last year, the fireworks were amazing," someone said. "Do you have any books on Guy Fawkes and what about those adult colouring books everyone is talking about?" another asked. And so it goes on. No algorithm can beat it. Real conversations about real books in real bookshops.
Let’s wish all new bookshops well.
Sue Lake is owner of White Rose Bookcafe in Thirsk, North Yorkshire.