I am still trying to come to terms with the extraordinary difference between bookshops in Munich and London that I witnessed at the weekend and mentioned in the post below. What is it? Why is it that there should be so many more people in one than the other?
To start to answer the question one important yet stark difference between the two should be mentioned. In Munich, no offers. None. No three for two. No half price. No buy one get one half price. No £8 off. No £4 off. No displays in the front of house with This Months's Book of the Month. Everything is Cover Price.
So why, when the chains are convincing everyone that all these spectacular offers bring customers into the shop and have driven sales for the last ten years, do we get a bookshop in Munich with three times the custom a Hatchards or Borders would get but with no offers? Does this mean that if High street stores here stopped discounting there would be no customers?
Matthew and I were discussing this and we decided it was a question of value. I know it's going to sound elitist and I know there's going to be publishers and chain sellers exclaiming just how much they all love books. I'm sure there are lots who genuinely do. But I don't think you can escape the fact that publishers and booksellers have devalued books in the last ten years in this country. By their endless discounting and offers they have put the book in the same catagory as tins of beans and fish fingers in the mind of the public. Books are now things to be bought on the cheap and the great tragedy is that the process cannot be reversed. They have lost their aura, as Walter Benjamin would call it and have just become another boring bit of consumer tat.
Books are precious and bookselling should be regarded seriously and preciously. Another interesting fact about German bookselling is that you have to train for 4 years to become one, much like a librarian. It's a proper career to be taken seriously and compared to Waterstone's recent decision to change their employment structure that now makes it increasingly difficult to move out of the lowest wage scale is incredibly telling about the state bookselling has been allowed to descend to in this country.