The Return Of An Old Friend

A huge bookstore with rows of shelves stacked with books and several people reading them
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May 19, 2017

Bookstore Sales Rebounded in March exclaimed the jubilant headline following the US Census Bureau’s announcement that bookstore sales in March were $725m, a 2.4% rise from $708m in March last year. The subtext is clear: Readers are returning to bookstores! Readers are returning to bookstores!

Are they though? After all the same source pointed to falls in January and February compared to the year before – perhaps the real story is print’s challenge to the popularity of eBooks. And maybe readers never really left the bookstores in the first place.

The bookstore itself has always enjoyed sort of cult status. It’s a place of hushed civility, somewhere to enjoy a coffee and take pleasure in choosing a new book, a place with the power to inspire and delight, a place of magic and wonder. Some are an exercise in ‘people watching’ and some are the doorway to another world; little wonder then that there are quite a few books that are actually set in a bookstore.  There are also plenty of hip travel guides and evergreen editorial column inches devoted to the most beautiful bookshops around the world.

In our blog Avengers Assemble!, we noted Marvel’s efforts to encourage a new generation of  comic book readers. It’s all very well to buy into the franchise via movie, game and TV formats but by introducing a new generation to the tactile, intimacy of the comic book and the tribal friendships of the comic bookstore, Marvel was making a clever move to ensure its legacy.

But will it work? Will the next generation fall in love with print? Won’t they just be confused that they can’t swipe to see the next page? Apparently not, because the same reports that show a decline in eBook market dominance also show the youngsters’ preference for print. Who knew it had such power? Not only does print refuse to be superseded by technology, it even allows its vendors to bask in a kind of reflected glory.  

What is also worthy of note here is the notion of the community. Much has been written about how the world has been made smaller by the internet, there’s a hive of people making online connections and creating buzzing online communities even though we are all essentially alone tapping away on our keyboards and screens; unlikely to meet the people we’re talking to (how many Facebook friends do you see regularly?). So the idea of a real-life community seems a little elusive – and yet here it is, in the bookstore.

The Women’s National Book Association recently announced its 2017 Pannell Award winners (given annually to two bookstores that “enhance their communities by fostering a love of reading”).This is significant because it strongly suggests that communities can be brought together through a love of reading and it places the bookstore right at its heart.

The winners were The Bookworm of Edwards in Edwards, Colorado and Children’s Book World in Los Angeles for an ‘adopt-a-reader program’ for children and a ‘Readers & Writers Rock!’ program bringing authors to schools, respectively. While cynics could argue that like Marvel, the bookstores were merely ensuring their longevity, the fact remains, they are introducing new readers to a place of magic and wonder that will stay with them for a lifetime.

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