Monday, 23 March 2009

The Vanishing Bookshop

I remember - warning - reminiscence of aged man coming up - when there was the Bohdi Tree is St Brelade, and in St Helier, Jura Bookshop, The Printed Word, Lexicon and de Gruchy - all selling books. There was also the SPCK and the Christian Bookshop in the market, although the latter was more specialised.

In the second hand market, there was St James Books (opposite St James Church), where Stella Perkins and Norman Le Brocq also dispensed advice (as members of the JDM), Hilgrove Books (in Hilgrove Street), and Thesaurus (originally in Sand Street, then in Burrard Street). There was also a second hand section above the SPCK which remained when it closed and reopened briefly as Waterloo Books. There is also a bookshop in the Market (where the owner sometimes plays the piano).

Lexicon was taken over and became WH Smith, and is still here. Jura sold up to Ottakers, which the became Waterstones, and also had the franchise in De Gruchy, which it has now closed, so it only runs one shop in King Street. The Printed Word moved to looking after the Museums book franchise, and disappeared from selling mainstream books and student and education textbooks. Now the Bhodi Tree (selling both mainstream and New Age books) is giving up book selling, so there will only be WH Smith and Waterstones and the Market. Two mainstream book sellers and one specialist one are all that are left.

In the second hand market, St James Street closed, reopened briefly under different management, and is now a Polish grocery store. Waterloo books closed, and with it the second hand section. Hilgrove closed and moved its remaining stock to Thesaurus, which had three floors. After the death of one of its owners, Mr Creaton, it reduced in size to a fraction of its former self, then moved across the road, and now is closing again as far as books go. This means the market will have the only second hand book shop available. Of course, there are many charity shops selling books, but a second hand bookshop is more specialist, and sells old Jersey books as well.

It is likely that the use of the internet has intruded on both markets, for often massive discounts can be obtained on Amazon for new books. One I saw last year was £30 locally (rrp) but £15 via Amazon (with no postage). And yet the book offers can sometimes match the internet with the three for two offers. More specialist and smaller booksellers like the Bohdi tree are probably the bigger losers here. That probably explains the reduction of Waterstones to one store. WH Smith also has a wider range - selling DVDs, stationary, cards, newspapers and magazines.

In the second hand sphere, those second hand bookshops with a wide stock who are linked to their marketplace, or who have shops connected to Alibris or eBay, have expanded their market - but at the expense of those who have not or who have very small second hand shops. Charity shops have also expanded with car boots selling cheaply popular second hand books, so it is small wonder that the profusion of second hand book sellers in the 1980s has vanished to the single one in the market, which also sells antiques, so is not totally bound to one type of goods.

Textbooks, certainly, are easy to obtain on the internet, and with free postage, often are cheaper than local sources, so it is hardly surprising that those local retailers who specialised in this niche market were squeezed out - Jura, Printed Word being the casualties here.

It is still a shame though, for often you cannot really tell what a book is like unless you can pick it up, read the blurb on the back, look at the contents and flick through it. Of course, selected viewing of this sort is now available with Amazon, but it still doesn't feel quite the same.

Will books themselves be replaced by electronic media? Back in the 1970s, the science fiction writer Isaac Asimov looked at this, and suggested the the ultimate data storage and display medium, would require no power to operate or maintain its image, could display text or pictures (in colour if necessary), permit random access to its data, cause no problems with future obsolescence of its recording system, and would easily fit into a jacket pocket. His punchline - he was, of course, as he delighted in concluding - describing the book. I think there is still a long way before electronic media catches up.

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