Today the last big bookshop in Leicester, the city where I reside, closed its doors. The out of town Borders went three years ago. Waterstones on Market Street shut it’s doors today, leaving a much smaller sub-branch in the nearby shopping mall. I do not hold much hope of it surviving, and feel convinced at this point that dedicated high street book retailers will soon be a memory. That is sad. I love bookshops. But should we take it as a sign that society is regressing, or is it actually a sign of progress?
Some thoughts for both progress and regress:
REGRESS : The bookshops are closing. That’s where people buy books. Where are they going to buy books now? Taken in isolation, closing bookshops is a terrible sign of a crumbling society.
PROGRESS : Bookshops have been superseded by the internet, ebooks and smartphones, which form a much better infrastructure for distributing knowledge. Big gains for everyone.
REGRESS : That digital infrastructure is only accessible to people who can afford the technology and have the knowledge to use it.And it’s owned by a small number of mega tech corporations. Big loss of privacy and maybe freedom.
PROGRESS : Poorer people culturally excluded from bookshops, much more likely to access books via widely used and ever cheaper smartphones. Anyone can publish a book digitally.
REGRESS : The infrastructure of bookshops, publishers & distributors is what pays writers to write books. Without payment, only rich amateurs can have time to write.
PROGRESS : Retailers, publishers take a lot of the money made from selling books. Digital distribution might mean more money going to writers. Writing might become more like being a traditional artisan, as is happening in other creative professions. This is a big might.
Overall, I feel the argument for progress outweighs regress, quite substantially. But that doesn’t mean I cheer the death of bookshops. Progress means change, and change rarely comes without waving goodbye to things we love. We just have to believe that they space they leave behind will be filled with things we can love just as much or more.