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.

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13 thoughts on “Not dead yet

    1. That’s the part of the Coronation service they traditionally miss out when it’s broadcast. Frequently misquoted as “He’s not His Majesty, he’s a very naughty boy!”

  1. Lol, -that scene is superb!, and YES, we have known for long about the value of physical books. Maybe it’s because I’m to some degree surrounded by those who love books, but I don’t believe they will die.

    1. There are some people who feel intimidated by books and who may even feel proud to say they don’t or won’t read them, thus implying the rest of us are somehow losers with a niche interest. Strangely enough, the research appears to suggest that those who read often and widely are more likely to empathise, feel compassion, express charitable sentiments — in other words, more likely to behave as decent humans.

      It’s not a universal correlation — I suppose there’ll be some sociopaths, even psychopaths, who read voraciously — but sometimes the exception proves the rule.

      What I am sure of it that there are umpteen examples of people in power (we don’t have to look far to come up with names) who disdain books and book-learning while simultaneously caring not a jot for their fellow humans, or indeed the future of humanity.

      1. I do agree, readers as a general rule, learn to place themselves in other people’s shoes, and can live vicariously and learn from that. Reading and thinking are very connected, and I also think it helps us become more decent humans, absolutely!

  2. inkbiotic

    Working in a bookshop was one of the best jobs I’ve had, a place for the strange and the thoughtful to mingle. If I ever found myself rich and with some business nous, I’d definitely want to set up my own. Whenever I hear the good news that bookshops are hanging on, I feel hearty. They’re probably the only shop I actually go to out of choice rather than necessity. Thank you for championing the little guy!

    1. I worked in public libraries for a time, and one of the pluses was having so much choice in terms of books I could borrow, week in, week out. I’d be rubbish at managing a bookshop, though, much better to work in it, I think.

  3. “eBooks felt more like renting than buying”. I would argue that eBooks with intrusive DRM (anything beyond a watermark or similar) is very much like renting rather than buying ( a hardware or software update later and it could all be unreadable) so I find it very promising that millennials are noticing. Of course that isn’t necessarily a problem but those DRM-protected ebooks are clearly an inferior product (also compared to DRM-free ebooks) and ought to be priced and marketed accordingly.

    1. I gave up on ebooks a while ago, never having completed any I’d downloaded, but as I only had free classics on my Kindle plus the odd novel sent for review I never had the DRM issues you mention. (Most of those classics I subsequently got as physical copies.)

      1. While I prefer paperbooks I have been saved from the dreaded “nothing-to-read” by my e-reader too many times not to be grateful (especially on longer travels when I can never carry enough physical books). Project Gutenberg has introduced me to a wide range of minor classics I would never have read otherwise and I have also bought quite a few ebooks. However, I try to avoid the ones with intrusive DRM when I do. An ebook in an open format can most likely been updated to a newer format when needed but I’m not convinced that DRM protected ebooks will be readable in 20 years. As you may guess from my rants this is a pet peeve of mine…

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