A real-life post, but it does relate to books, I promise.
Christmas has come and gone and this means we’re in the biggest shopping time of the year. Many shops survive on the rush to Christmas and then the post-Christmas sales. I don’t like shopping, but today I had reason to venture into our local shopping centre and it was… rather quiet. Retailers are reporting OK, but lacklustre sales.
The reason I ventured into the shops after buying vacuum cleaner bags was that it is high time to replace my bikini. When you use it a lot, even chlorine-resistant swimwear doesn’t last all that long. Two years tops. And since the last time I bought a bikini, something has changed. See, I’m not a frilly type of person, and I’m definitely not for a floral bathing suit. I want a sporty bikini that has a reasonable chance of staying in place when one gets dumped by a wave. Sand in unimaginable places is enough to deal with, thank you very much. I don’t need to worry about my bikini top as well.
And–here comes the weird thing–none of the shops had any non-frilly, non-flimsy, chlorine resistant swimwear, not even the sports store. Last time I bought a bikini, there was plenty of choice.
So when I got home, grumpy, I decided to look on the internet. Guess what? Lots of choice.
So, do we have a Borders moment here? Borders who used to stock loads of interesting books until the rot set in and they just stocked the most popular ones, and often not even those? And then they went bust.
The clothing stores have obviously worked out that people buy these things online, so they don’t even bother stocking. The retailers I found online–most of them local, and a fair number made their clothes locally–didn’t look like their wares were carried by any stores.
This is similar to what happens in book retailing. I bought a couple of books in a bookshop the other day. It’s worth mentioning because I haven’t bought anything in a physical bookshop for a long time. It’s not that I wouldn’t want to, but that the books I wanted simply aren’t available in shops. Some perhaps could be ordered from publishers and distributors, but others–especially the specialist scientific books which were POD–probably not.
In any case, it would be much easier and cheaper for me to order the books myself through ABE. I strongly feel that the word “easier” is the operative here.
A lot of people have a quaint attachment to bookshops. They are cute and interesting places, and I wouldn’t really want them to disappear, but given the fact that they don’t often have what I want, what is the future for the bookshop? Or, for that matter, for the clothes stores, or non-fresh-food retail in general? We want more choice than local shops can provide, and we want it now. Some people advocate asking shops to order on their behalf, but that’s not a solution; that’s charity. And a pain in the butt besides.
I see retail diverging into two streams: high-volume popular items and specialist shops. The specialist shops will probably still do a lot of online trade and their shopfront will double as office. But that probably puts them under the line at which their income is going to pay the horrendous rent in shopping complexes, so the specialist shops will become backyard and warehouse-only operations.
The same with specialist clothing stores. They don’t need a shopfront.
So, does anyone need a shopfront, really? Anyone at all? Now there is a scary thought.
What about all these giant shopping complexes we’ve built over the past decades? When are we going to convert them into housing estates?
Or, will the shopping centre management lower the rents so that interesting shops can once again populate these palaces of materialism? Will we perhaps see specialist shopping centres?