Friday, September 28, 2007

Why I Hate My Local Independent Bookshop....

I hate to say this, but I hate my local Independent bookshop. Writing this very sentence makes me cringe, but its time I finally admitted the truth and began to work through my feelings of rage towards my local shop.

I'm not a big fan of the corporatization of the world. I hate going to a different town in a different part of the country (or world) that looks exactly like my hometown i.e.: McDonald's on the left, Starbucks on the right, Borders in the centre, with a Blockbuster Video thrown in here and there for variety. It’s the differences that make travelling (and life) interesting. Plus, I really love the idea of a local independent bookshop that serves the community, bringing together young artists, being a hub for author/poetry readings, and events.

Recently my company threw a dinner for the independent booksellers in our country. It was an elaborate affair that took me months to organise. I can’t tell you how gracious the independent bookshop owners were or how smoothly the event went. I was again reminded of how important indie bookshops are—and of how quickly they are being lost to the corporatization of the bookselling world.

The greatest thing I took away from the whole experience is how the bookshops that were at the event had evolved to compete with the mega chain stores. True, local shops can’t sell books as cheaply as supermarkets or many high street retailers, but what the local shops are selling is a feeling as much as a product. Many of these bookshops had carved a niche for themselves in their communities having lots of events, perhaps a coffee bar, children’s story hour, or in one case and ice cream shop on their premises so that they could offer something different to their high street compatriots. These shops made a difference in their communities and had earned a place in their hearts. It was enough to make me want to quit my job and open up my own shop.

Before I launch into my tirade about Hung Duck Books (my local shop) I have to say this: owning an indie bookshop is difficult work. There’s not one aspect of it that is easy. Just like with any other small business you spend all of your time fretting over the minimal profits, staff turnover, and the increasing fear that a mega chain store will open up and steal all your customers. In other words, it’s not the life I’d like for me.

I will give Hung Duck credit for the one thing it does exceedingly well. Hung Duck is very popular with the elderly and has classes on Beginners Cooking with Arthritis (I’m not making this up), local authors who occasionally visit during the weekdays and sign books, and a funky ol’ people smell that seems to cling to the very fibre of the building. Hung Duck is very much the place to be if you are an old age pensioner. Which is really fair enough.

However, below are my reasons why I’ll take my patronage to anyone other than Hung Duck.

1.Hung Duck is Never Open: Since Hung Duck isn’t a corporate franchise they are able to set their own hours. This means that Hung Duck is open Monday-Saturday from 9am-5pm (and closed each day from 12pm-1pm for a tea break). Being your average office worker I am at work during the majority of the time my bookshop is open. The only day I can visit it is Saturday and generally I’m so busy running errands I can’t get down to the shop before it shuts. Convenience is one of the factors that keeps me returning to a bookshop.
2.Hung Duck has Nothing in Stock: Whenever I try to find a book in the shop I’m unable to find any of the most recent titles. I was home sick about a couple of months ago and decided I’d head out to the shop and pick up a copy of the third Harry Potter to read (a favourite series of mine to read when I’m unwell) and was shocked to discover they didn’t have any. This was about a week before the fifth movie opened in the cinemas. I looked for several other bestsellers and was even more surprised to find that they had none of the titles I was interested in. I went next door a bought a glossy mag and headed home to rest.
3.Hung Duck is Overpriced with no deals: One of the few things that I admire about chain stores is that they have buy two get one free offers. This is brilliant for me as I can stock up on some of the latest titles and financially recover from my splurge as I read (thus allowing me to indulge in the system again). However, because Hung Duck is not a chain store they are unable to charge the same cheap prices and charge full retail price for every title in stock. This becomes a problem to struggling writers, as we can’t afford to pay retail prices. So we have to shun our local indie store and hit the library instead. I would definitely purchase more books from Hung Duck if they even gave me a £ or two off newer (or even more obscure titles), but they don’t.
4.Hung Duck has no Events: I’ve always believed that indie bookshops should have an artsy vibe attracting authors/poets/and all other forms of artists to them. Occasionally authors of local history books have signings (always on a weekday and thus excluding most of the working population) but beyond that my local shop offers nothing to draw the community in. Perhaps if the shop stayed open a bit later they could have local writers in to read from their poetry, open mic nights, or an evening of local musicians.
5.Hung Duck is not Proactive: The best example of this is during the publication of the final Harry Potter book, Hung Duck complained that it would not be able to sell the book for as cheap as the local supermarkets and would lose money just by having it on their shelves. They even clipped a copy of an article complaining about how indie booksellers couldn’t afford to sell the book and posted on their shop window. I understand that they couldn’t compete with the low prices that other chain shops were able to offer, but this didn’t mean they had to give up. I would gladly have paid £20.00 for a copy of the book (about £11.00 more than I did wind up paying) for the privilege of purchasing the book at midnight and then heading home to read it. What infuriated me about this was that Hung Duck was looking at the problem from the wrong angle. People will pay more money for the book. People will show their local shops loyalty. People want to do these things, but when their local stores are whinging wont. How can you support someplace that refuses to change with the times? Beyond even that, how can you support a business that refuses to function like a business? Loads of other local bookstores did make quite a profit selling the final Harry Potter book at a higher price than their competing chain stores because they opened at midnight, hired a magician, or had contests engaging their customers. Its called being proactive. If you are a small business you have to work to make your customers happy.

I think Hung Duck has lost its way, and for that I feel sorry. Perhaps I've gotten this all wrong and Hung Duck is a wonderful pillar for the senior community in my quaint little town, I'd like to believe that. However, whether or not this is the case, my local shop doesn't support my needs. In other words, it doesn't support me.

I want to support my local shop and shower it with what little disposable income I can, but I wont. I’ll take my business somewhere else to some other place that’s innovative and actually gives the reading community what they want. I’m sorry Hung Duck, but you’re just that.

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