We are lucky to have The Torbay Bookshop in our area. The owners, Matthew and Sarah Clarke, opened for business in 1993. They had spent their working lives in publishing and had built a lot of useful connections. Their first shop was opened by Sir Patrick Moore and when they later moved to a bright new shop in 2002 that one was opened by Dick Francis.
Over the years they have kept up a steady flow of celebrity events, been heavily involved with the local Library Service and won a host of awards, including Best Independent Bookshop. It is hard to think of anything more that the Clarkes could have done to make selling books on the High Street successful.
It was, therefore, distressing to learn that the business (including the freehold of the property) was up for sale. It seemed that an excellent bookshop was in danger of closing.
But there is good news! It has to be said that good news for independent bookshops is in pretty short supply. Matthew and Sarah heard that the neighbouring Thorntons store was closing and stepped in. By re-arranging their premises they can maintain the bookshop, but also offer the range of Thorntons chocolate and, for good measure, they will also be selling jigsaws, stationery, CDs, DVDs, local photographic prints, diaries and calendars.
It’s a relief that we are not losing our local asset, but I can’t help feeling that it’s a pity that such knowledgeable and enthusiastic people can no longer make an adequate living from selling books.
When are the mainstream publishers going to wake up to the fact that unless they change their ways there will soon be very, very few independent bookshops; they will have lost an important sales route and we will have lost a socially significant presence from our High Streets. The solution is obvious. They have to do just two things: stop giving the online retailers and the large chains such generous discounts that it makes it easy for them to undercut the small independents, and stop unloading remaindered stock at obscenely low prices.
I was in a bookshop in Ashburton shortly before it closed down. The proprietor showed me a book that she had on sale at the cover price of £20. It was a very attractive, large format, hardback book featuring a stunning collection of local photographs. It had been published just twelve months previously, but she told me that it was already on sale in a nearby out-of-town shopping centre for just £5. The publisher had never offered the book to the bookshop on reduced terms, but had simply unloaded all the unsold stock in a way that undermined all the independent bookshops in the area.
If a business treats its connections with such contempt it will eventually pay the price.