Showrooming is just a “genteel form of shoplifting” author David Nicholls told an audience at the London Book Fair Digital Minds Conference this morning (13th April).
Giving a keynote speech at the digital event ahead of the fair's official start tomorrow (14th April), Nicholls spoke of the importance of physical bookshops, and criticized the practice of discovering a title in a bookshop only to buy it online instead, known as showrooming.
He said: “For all the ease and convenience of online shopping or the digital download, I still feel a town without a bookshop is missing something…For much of the early nineties I worked in bookshops myself, running the children’s section in Waterstones Notting Hill with a rod of iron and believing, like all booksellers, that books are somehow special, that the expertise and enthusiasm of booksellers is vital, that if you love bookshops you should spend money there, and that to discover a book on display in a well-staffed, lovingly-maintained shop, to hold it in your hand then to sneak off and buy the same book online is really just a genteel form of shoplifting.”
He also spoke of his sadness at the decline of independent bookshops, which he tracked while on an international book tour in Germany, New York and London. He noted that customers needed to use indies or lose them. “Over the next few days (of the tour) I visited some of the bookshops in that city (New York), and played that all-too familiar game – is it still there? There were thriving independents in Soho and Greenwich Village and ferociously cool new shops in Brooklyn, the mighty Strand on Broadway was packed late in the evening, but others felt more forlorn and deserted and St Marks Bookshop, which I’d always loved, had gone, relocated to a new smaller location further from Broadway,” he said. “Back in London, I discovered that the lovely little bookshop on Exmouth Market had also gone, and I felt an all too familiar sadness, usually accompanied by guilt because while you’re sorry the shop has gone, you’re also vaguely aware that you hadn’t bought anything there for a while.”
The One Day author also questioned why more people didn’t give fiction as a gift and vowed to give more novels as presents in the future. “…Isn’t it strange that, with some exceptions, we seem less willing to give fiction as a gift,” he said. “Buying someone a novel is a gamble. It’s like playing someone your favourite song - you need them to love it - and we’ve all had that experience of pressing a book into someone’s hands, saying ‘this is wonderful, it will change your life’ and then hearing…nothing. It’s mortifying, and exposing too because the novels we love reveal something about ourselves; reflect our personalities, our experiences and outlook, our obsessions, which isn’t something you can necessarily say about The Guinness Book of Records.”
Nicholls spoke of the beneficial insights e-book data could give an author. He said that from New York he travelled to Toronto, where he “visited the offices of an e-book retailer,” assumed to be Kobo since the company’s head offices are based there. Nicholls said the staff were “without exception, smart, well-read, youthful, enthusiastic, they reminded me of the people I used to work with in bookshops years ago." He added that someone asked if he’d be interested in knowing at what point people stopped reading his novel, because if he knew what readers didn’t like, "maybe I could fix it and make it better."
Nicholls said: “When I wrote my first novel this would have seemed fantastical, but now I can reach into my pocket, take out my phone, open up the text and find out which passages have been underlined, shared and annotated, and I’m always just a few clicks away from several thousand reviews, constructive or otherwise. Why shouldn’t I toughen-up and learn from the data and feedback? More to the point, why shouldn’t I correct those mistakes?”
He concluded the anecdote by telling the staff: “I’ll give it some thought.”