I have in the past complained about my local Waterstone’s – the staff are pretty good (excellent even) but the overall selection has been up and down. It doesn’t help that it used to be an admirable branch of Dillon’s with three floors of books and elegant sweeping staircases. The staircases and floors remain but are now befouled with paperchase, a costa coffee, and until recently a travel agent. The later has gone and the books are creeping back but even so the selling space is only half what it once was and it’s been hard in the last year to find anything tempting in there.
It got so bad at one time that I thought the branch was probably slated for closure and blew all my loyalty points on a book I didn’t especially want (‘The Morville Hours’ which is probably as good as everyone says it is but has somehow so far resisted being read by me) because I was afraid it was a case of use them or lose them. However things are looking up – something that I sincerely hope is a result of new ownership and here to stay. I really truly believe there is a place for big high street bookshops but I also believe that they need to play to their strengths and not get hung up with trying to compete with internet suppliers and supermarkets.
Deep discounting has its place; heaven knows price is more of a consideration than ever for most of us at the moment and who doesn’t like a market but there are other considerations too. I’ve bought a few books recently, some online and some in person, both transactions have reminded me why I love real life shops. Amazon were responsible for delivering my sisters birthday present, happily I ordered in plenty of time because it arrived a week later than there estimated delivery time – which is just about as long as I was prepared to wait before trying to get hold of them to complain.
Books I’ve ordered for myself are on the way but because one of them is bulky (but cheap) they’re coming via courier. I hate this, I will be at work when they try and deliver. I, like everyone else, always am. It will be a good ten days to two weeks before I can be at home on a week day to get my parcel (which makes me lucky because at least I sometimes get week days off), I will be given the option to pay extra to get my goods on a Saturday (which defeats the point of buying cheap in the first place) or I can dig out my passport and try and find a driving friend with a sat nav to take me to whatever labyrinthine industrial estate buried deep in the midlands they choose to incarcerate my books in.
How much nicer was it to walk into a shop and find the very Vintage print on demand Stella Gibbons that have been sitting on my wish list unavailable for the last two months there on the shelf. It hasn’t cost me more to buy like this which is nice (at £9.99 each this was always going to be a mild extravagance) but having held the books I couldn’t let them go (presentation is particularly good for p.o.d). But it got better, the girl behind the till was clearly a Gibbons fan – she may have been responsible for these being on the shelf in the first place – she told me about ‘Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm’ coming soon (which I knew already but shows excellent sales technique as well as being generally helpful).
I’ve debated for weeks about buying these books and probably would have for months more, I’m pleased to have done my bit to persuade Vintage to bring out regular (cheaper and prettier please) editions of their full Gibbons range, and to have spent my money locally. It was altogether everything a shopping experience should be - a timely reminder that service, knowledge, and instant gratification are worth paying a bit extra for especially if all that comes with a well chosen, suitably eclectic choice of stock.