Monday, 6 March 2017

How independent are independent bookshops?

On Twitter, I recently came across and article written by Susan Hill, author of 'The Woman in Black', in The Spectator on her cancellation of an event due to the bookshop in question being 'Anti-Trump'. I read this article with disbelief- and I think you should too, it's something you really do have to see to believe (you can read it here).

The bookshop it slates is The Book Hive, in Norwich- one of my local and most favourite bookshops when I'm at home. She accuses it of being biased against books that support, or are written by a supporter of Trump and therefore denying shoppers a diverse and neutral bookshop experience. I'm not going to write a response to the article- I think The Book Hive responds magnificently here- but I did think it sparked an interesting discussion.

Bookshops sell books. That much is obvious, but which books they sell really does depend on the shop. As Hill states, if you go into a Christian Bookshop you expect to find Christian books. That's fair enough- but it's what she suggests next that I find a bit troublesome: If you go into a bookshop that does not state the kind of books it sells, you should find a diverse range of books supporting every political and other opinion, no matter how damaging that opinion may be. In some ways, yes, a bookshop should of course stock a wide range of books, however, that does not mean they are obliged to stock everything.

Any shop owner will tell you that there is no point in stocking something that will not interest your customers. There is no point in a small shop in the centre of the country, miles from the sea, selling surfboards- there will be very little demand and the shop will be unlikely to make a profit. Similarly, if a bookshop was to stock books that few customers will be interested in, they too will be unlikely to profit- and it is that profit that is all important to the survival of independent businesses. Of course, profit is not the only reason someone will open a bookshop, but still, it matters. In terms of The Book Hive, then, it is located in Norwich- on the whole a left wing city. It was a small island of remain in the vast sea of leave that was East Anglia during the Brexit referendum and I think most people who live there will agree that it is a welcoming and loving place for immigrants and refugees. Therefore, stocking books that support a president who continues to preach hate and mistrust are unlikely to be successful.

The books someone has in their personal library is arguably an extension of their personality. I don't think bookshops, and more specifically independent bookshops are any different. One of the quirks of an independent bookshop is that it is individual. Each one is different, and they all stock a different selection of books. Unlike the large chains, they are more adaptable and more able to tailor their stock to their customers. If each bookshop was expected to stock a similar range of books covering every topic and opinion, there would be no variation between them. The fact that independent bookshops are able to select exactly the books they sell is what makes them individual, and losing that would be a huge loss to the literary community.

I think that independent bookshops are a vital part of the creative community in many towns and cities. Two bookshops are never the same, and I think that by stocking a uniform selection of books, as Hill seems to suggest, will cause many to lose their individuality and personality. I believe that standing up for our own views and encouraging others to do so is incredibly important during the current political climate. For every attempt to silence those standing up for those highlighting the dangers of a right wing regime, we must increase our support and continue to promote equality and acceptance. Unfortunately for Susan Hill, all she appears to have achieved though her astounding accusations is to promote The Book Hive- they have since appeared in the local and national news- and draw more attention to the importance of supporting community run projects and independent bookshops. Her attack backfired, and has served to further strengthen a wonderful and accepting community that I am very proud to be a part of.

If you'd like to support The Book Hive you can find their website here, and their twitter here!

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