She says chain bookshops often failed because they were overlit, treated customers like cash cows and sold populist books that ironically catered to a small, occasional reader market. They neglected the 'real readers' who read voraciously but wanted intelligent staff and a wide choice.Paradoxical? Condescending? No. The owner seems to have a very good instinctive grasp of the business.
The fact is, buying books is difficult when you have to reach your purchase across a counter stacked high with ephemera designed for the impulse purchaser. Into this category, I place books with one ‘wisdom’ quote on each spread opposite a picture of a sunset; books filled with pictures of cats; books filled with pictures of flat white buildings in Greece; books filled with pictures of cats sitting on flat white buildings in Greece; books that spin off from television shows; and books with ‘Little’ in their titles (e.g., The Little Book of Calm). This last has sold two million copies, according to its publisher. True serenity in a two-minute read? Do two million readers even begin to understand the sheer hyperactive idiocy of the concept?
Another sign of a careless bookstore is having to spell the name of an author to bookshop staff. This makes buying the book feel like an ordeal. It spoils the pleasure, like the staff telling you the ending as they hand over your change. The Russian authors I can understand. They have variants, as well as being hard to spell to begin with. But asking if there are two m’s in Hemingway? No.
There is a real grain of business truth in the bookshop owner’s observation. When she says ‘populist’, she is clearly referring to all that counter top rubbish. All scale but no depth. You have to look after the return customers before the loss leader opportunists. It’s like the regular newspaper buyer having to stand behind ten lotto ticket buyers in the newsagent line. You tire of it.