My local town doesn’t have an independent bookshop. My local town doesn’t have any kind of bookshop. Outside of the supermarkets (and we have lots of them), the only shop you can buy books in is a very small branch of WH Smith. Anything bigger and I’d have to drive to Crewe or Chester, or venture further afield to Liverpool or Manchester.
So I’m shopping today on the High Street. We have Rymans and Boots and Costa – even Marks & Spencer. But no book shop. I decide to have a wander around WH Smith just to have a look at what’s on the shelves these days.
Best-sellers – Sylvia Day and EL James. Fifty shades of erotica and more. Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl (I hated that book) in several different incarnations. Scandinavian crime and lots of romance and women’s fiction. I move towards the back of the shop, falling into old habits of hunting out the science fiction and fantasy. There used to be lots of it – now we’re down to a couple of shelves and if you don’t like Stephen King or Robert Jordan’s 300 books of the Wheel of Time or Terry Pratchett, then you might as well move along. Where are all the mid-list authors? The up-and-coming authors I used to meet at conventions? How are they ever going to sell if nobody buys their books? How is anybody going to buy their books if they don’t know they even exist?
I don’t have a dog in the Amazon v Hachette fight. I don’t want to see Amazon take over the world either. I’m happy reading paperbacks or ebooks, from both traditional and self-published authors – I don’t care; if the story is good, I’ll read it. But who dictates what books are on the shelves of WH Smith? The big publishers can offer the best discounts, pay for front-of-store promotions for their star authors, while the rest languish in obscurity. I don’t want to be offered a selection of what the people with the most money think I should be reading or buying. Why isn’t it about art anymore?
At least Amazon offers me a (relatively) unbiased selection of books by all authors. Yes, I have to sift through rubbish. Yes, I have to filter through whatever Amazon decides to show me first. I’m sure the big publishers pay for virtual shelf-space here too. But at least I can get beyond that and find books I want to read and not what the big boys tell me I should read.
I don’t think I’ll bother with WH Smith again.