Posted on December 12, 2009 by Vanessa
Since Borders went into administration there has been a flurry of newspaper articles considering the future of bookselling. These have ranged from talking heads romanticising the Tim Waterstone days at the eponymous chain, to features about boutique-style shops in posh areas of London to trying-to-be-controversial pieces telling us that bookshops and the dead-tree media that they purvey are an anachronism destined to disappear as we download all our reading matter from t’interweb.
But one thing leapt out. In the Observer print edition, accompanying that second article about the Lutyens and Rubinstein bookshop in West London was a sidebar in which Julie Myerson was quoted as saying:
“I buy all books on Amaz*n now because of the huge price difference. But I still use bookshops as places to go to first – to remind me of what’s out there and to look at and touch the books.”
This is Julie Myerson - Guardian columnist of the ‘all about me’ type, Newsnight Review contributor – writer of lit-fic novels which generally don’t get masses of attention beyond positive broadsheet reviews and being long-listed for various awards. Not that a Booker long-listing is to be sneered at, but it doesn’t usually translate into masses of sales. No, Myerson’s books are the type which usually rely on word-of-mouth and hand-selling by booksellers who are passionate about them.
Until her last book. The Lost Child is a lightly fictionalised account of her son’s drug-taking and subsequent ejection from the family home aged 17 and garnered many column inches (accompanied by pics of JM looking meaningful and some interviews with her understandably pissed off son) due to the dubious morality of exploiting one’s family situation for financial gain – is it really any different to Katie Price’s apparent inability to conduct her life without a film crew on hand? This publicity meant a huge increase in sales and Myerson probably feels that she doesn’t need to concern herself with independent bookshops any more.
I don’t mind people buying books from Amazon if they’re cheaper – it’s one of the reasons why we don’t waste space on glossy sleb chef cookbooks and we skip on much best-selling hardback fiction with its over-inflated RRP (to allow for the massive discounting that goes on), but I do object to people using us as Amazon’s shop window as Myerson is advocating. Come, browse, pick up the new Dan Brown on-line or in Asda if you wish (because they’ll be selling it for less than we can buy it in for), but spend some money with us and don’t just pay lip service to the fluffy, romantic idea of having a local independent bookshop. Especially if you’re a writer of less than entirely commercial fiction such as Myerson’s because you really should appreciate what the word of mouth of booksellers can do for sales – not for nothing is Per Petterson’s Out Stealing Horses our best-selling fiction title.
Myerson would have done well to remember is that when she’s no longer able to promote her books by prostituting her family circumstances she’ll be hoping that us indies are going to support her and embrace her efforts. Right. Think you might have shot yourself in the foot on that one Jules.