Thursday, 31 December 2009

Thoughts on the Old and New Decade/Year from the book trade

The dominant factor in the last year has been the economic recession and for many of us coming to the end of it with job and home in tact has been something of a lottery, with local and national government having very limited options when it comes to cushioning the effects of the global downturn.

In the small shopkeeping and book business things have generally been pretty bleak with many bookshops and other small shops closing, I think this is a case of the recession accelerating what was happening anyway.

I have always seen a bookshop as being essential to a town, one of the rules of thumb that makes the difference between a lot of houses grouped together and a proper town.

Now I am wondering if this litmus test needs revising, now Margate and Broadstairs have lost their bookshops are they still towns? Does the effect of new technology alter the criteria by which township is judged? Are towns of the future going to be called so because they have a free wireless internet connection or some other yet unexpected technological advantage?

Locally and nationally this is about our human environment, in its most simple form, living in a town, what do you expect within walking distance as the minimum requirements that differentiate this from living on a housing estate, in a village or just in the middle of nowhere?

Now most of the arts cultural lumps that we bought in our towns (books, records, CDs, videos) are on the road to redundancy as physical items and are becoming something that is either bought or stolen as digital downloads, the social interaction that went with these purchases or thefts, part of our human environment either goes or changes.

Personally I have a sort of Luddite approach to this sort of media, as an example of what I mean it is my day off today so I am writing this post in our living room and although have much technology for producing recorded music, I used conventional vinyl records to provide background music. Cream’s “Wheels of Fire” was on the turntable and I swapped this for Ashkenazy playing Chopin with the London Symphony Orchestra.

The way I discovered Ashkenazy and indeed Cream was due to face to face human interaction but technology is now changing this, the internet provides friends and acquaintances who one has never met face to face, does this make these relationships any less valid?

Looking back and forward as one is inclined to do at this time of year I face the question, am I part of a redundant species both as small shopkeeper and bookseller?

Looking forward to 2010 I am conscious that if my bookshop is going to survive in the medium to long term I am going to have to redefine what a bookshop is, and look to incorporating the new technologies somehow more extensively than just using them to sell books on the internet.

In a fairly tentative sort of way I think customer access to coffee and internet will probably be involved, possibly cheap printing and copying services too, I am open to ideas on this one, indeed one is probably going to have to be both fast and flexible to survive in any business during the next decade.

Still with technology changing our lives among the presents that Father Christmas gave to my children this year was headphones with microphones incorporated, remarkably similar to those sold in the pound shop in Ramsgate.

Having plugged them into their PCs I downloaded the free software and opened them skype accounts which effectively turns their PCs into free telephones, that they can use to talk to any of their friends, even those abroad, with the same technology for free.

One aspect of the advance of technology in our household during the 2000's has been the way we view television, we definitely passed the point where the majority of programs watched now comes via the internet and not by the more conventional forms of satellite dish and aerial.

We are into the new year celebrations with more visitors staying, both young and old, so another series of Christmas dinners, something like 50 roast turkey dinners over the next three days will come out of our kitchen.

One of our visitors over the new year break is something of a singer songwriter, this video (some blue language) is an example of his work.

Some pictures from this mornings, mostly rough sea, walk and at the bottom of them the food shopping for the 50 or so meals a turkey breast roast and vegetables just over £30.

Follow the link for them.


  1. A very Happy New Year, Michael.

    Your pictures over the past few months have perhaps captured without you realising it, the essence of our Thanet Towns; i.e. the ability to walk the streets; window shop; take pictures; share news and gossip and all without any one's leave and to be part of a vibrant community.

    The one area that you have not shown us is Westwood Cross (TDC's warped concept of Thanet's new and principal town). Is it because it is simply a sterile, privately owned 'cathedral' to consumerism where an eccentric individual walking around as dawn breaks is likely to be told that his 'photography' is banned as he is on 'private property'? In other words a town implies 'ownership' by the community to enjoy at all hours without let or hindrance. The worst examples of the 'out of town mall' like Westwood X I have had the misfortune to visit were in Lurgan and in Camberley. The shutters came down on the whole sites at night and any access at all was denied. Westwood Cross a 'town centre' is a contradiction in terms.

  2. Well said Bertie - I never go near Westwood Cross if I can help it - what a soulless dump

  3. You've ot a tough job there Michael in developing the bookshop for 2010, but I'm hoping you will make it a success.

    You are right in the fact that it needs to be more than a place that sells books, and mabe offering these other services you may find a way to increase revenue.

    I will let you on in a little secret though that would get me buying more from you. I love books about Ramsgate and Thanet etc, and in your window you have all the reprints you've made about all these subjects, but... there are no prices on these Thanet ones (that I have seen).

    If there were prices on there (especially for the reduced ones) then I would certainly be more inclined to buy them.

    That's just a suggestion, but it's a great showcase in your window, and maybe others feel the same as I do.

    Good luck with it all.

  4. Bertie I detest WWX as much as all other shopping complexes but it is a progress of sorts and as much as I dislike it, many evidently do go there where as they never used to use our Local High Streets. So maybe some of our empty shops will, as the country comes out of recession find new keepers. I am not confident but we have to keep optimistic ......... dont we ?

  5. Greetings : )
    You are shopping on-line or in-store? which often do you like? truly wondering lol.. i love in-store just because i hate expecting it to arrive!


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