Not dead yet

Independent Bookshop Week 2018 will take place 16 – 23 June. IBW is part of the Books Are My Bag campaign, and seeks to celebrate independent bookshops in the UK and Ireland.

The death of bookshops — and in particular independent bookshops — has been announced several times in the last few years, but it seems to have been a premature pronouncement. The steady decline in the UK has at last been arrested, and new independent bookshops have even been opening. It’s nothing to be complacent about, though, as indies can of course only survive if they get paying customers through the doors.

This trend has been matched by another development reported last month, the conclusion of a University of Arizona study being that millennials may prefer physical books over eBooks for reasons of “ownership, limiting usage experience, and value perceptions”. What this boils down to is this:

Readers have a constricted sense of ownership of digital books versus physical books; there are restrictions on sharing eBooks with friends, or gifting or selling the books, thus reducing their value.

Then there is the sense of being more emotionally attached to physical books, with physical books helping to establish a sense of self and belonging. This appears to be related to nostalgia for certain childhood books.

The sensory aspect of physical books is important: smell, feel, sight. Books collections are also used to express identity to visitors. While minimalists prefer digital books because they take up less physical space, many US participants in the study said eBooks felt more like renting than buying.

Significantly, many older readers prefer certain aspects of ebooks, for example e-readers are lightweight compared to physical books and enable the reader to zoom in on text.

For longtime fans of physical books little of this comes as a surprise. It just seems curious it has taken academics until recently to obtain the data that seems to confirm what many of us knew.

Of course this doesn’t guarantee that booklovers will get their stash from indies when they could get the same cheaper elsewhere — from bookshop chains or online, for example — so independents have to work hard to entice bibliophiles in, for example with cafés, book signings, book-related events, themed displays and the like.

Sadly, not all of us happen to live, as I do, just a hundred metres from the nearest indie. But if you do, please support it, especially during this year’s Independent Bookshop Week. You know the old adage: Use it or Lose it. And remember that INDY is also an acronym for I’m Not Dead Yet . . .

I’m Not Dead Yet. Strictly speaking, the phrase from Monty Python and the Holy Grail is “I’m not dead,” but in the musical Spamalot this gets transformed into “I am not dead yet…”


University of Arizona press release
https://uanews.arizona.edu/story/why-your-ebook-might-not-feel-yours
Academic abstract
Helm, S.V., Ligon, V., Stovall, T. et al. Electronic Markets (2018) 28: 177.
https://doi.org/10.1007/s12525-018-0293-6

Independent Bookshop Week is not to be confused with Independent Bookstore Day in the US, “a one-day national party that takes place at indie bookstores across the country on the last Saturday in April” every year.