When was the last time that anyone frequented a second-hand bookshop? I don’t know about you in the US because I’ve never been into a second-hand bookshop in the US, but in the UK they’re on the way out. An article in the Huff Post says so. I think there are many reasons for this and it’s not just the birth of the Internet.
It’s so easy to blame eBooks, or even search engines, for every ill in the world but perhaps there are more obvious reasons out there.
The most obvious problem I can see is the fact that most of these shops feel like someone has died in them. I have never felt comfortable in one of these places. In my experience, the owner is usually a crusty guy in a tweed jacket who looks second-hand himself. He sits on a rickety chair behind the counter reading one of the thousand books that surrounds him. He doesn’t acknowledge you when you walk in and merely grunts if you dare to ask a question. The term ‘customer service’ is as alien to him as deodorant.
Once you get past the gatekeeper, you then have to face the most impractical ordering system known to man. It’s called The Pile System. Books are arranged ever so slightly in genre but after that you’re on your own. In the old days, I’m sure the average patron connected some kind of romanticism with the task of searching through this horrendous mess but now, quite frankly, it’s shit. If the Internet can be blamed for anything in this situation it is simply the fact that people are now far less tolerant of inefficiency. Is this a problem?
I know there will be challengers that claim that finding a book in this process carries with it the same euphoria as finding a needle in the proverbial haystack, but… Come on. It would be like walking into a clothes shop and searching through a huge pile of fabric on the floor and actually being happy if you find anything that fits.
If the shop was more comfortable then maybe this exercise would be more pleasurable but it’s not. Perhaps a lick of paint, some nice shelves, a clean carpet, 1000% less dust, a conducive soundtrack rather than Elgar, how about some kind of understanding of stock, perhaps an ability to pay by card, serve nice coffee if you really are going to be spending five days looking through a crusty chap’s piles. I don’t know, I’m just being crazy here and radically brainstorming but you hardly have to be The Apprentice to work it out.
Second-hand bookshops are an antiquity that resembles the books they sell. I love books, I love reading, I love the mystique of an old book, I love the curiosity these shops harbour but I just can’t be bothered with this shopping experience. Especially not when I can get the same old book I’m looking for off eBay.
Like old record shops, we have to accept that these stores need to become a thing of the past in order to embrace a richer future. The emotion attached to such places is increased because of the emotion that the content within evokes. This emotion should be detached from the shop itself though in order to make a more objective decision.
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