High street versus online – is there any competition?

I’m part of an online community of booksellers and we regularly chew the fat and try to put the world to rights. One of our recent discussions was about someone’s local bookshop that had just closed down. They sold new books, were in a prosperous town in a good location but had gone into liquidation. Similar tales were soon pouring in from all over the country.

Many things were to “blame” high rates, kindles (electronic books) and of course Amazon and in truth all of these things are a genuine threat. I wouldn’t run an all new bookshop if you paid me. How on earth do you compete with a business that can provide an almost limitless range, next day delivery and the cheapest copy? I know Mary Portas, (Queen of Shops) recommends reconnecting with the community, making your product and shopping experience unique and offering excellent customer service and of course that’s excellent advice but the best bookshops have author events, affiliated reading groups, story times, coffee shops and so on but that still isn’t enough. I don’t blame Amazon, it’s just a new development, of course not everyone buys online but that’s the way the trend is growing and now you can download a book direct to a portable electronic reader. Personally I don’t like the idea but boy are they popular!

Here at Hurley Books we amble along selling a few new titles, local interest for example but mainly excellent condition secondhand books. We order books for customers new or out of print and we even do home deliveries, we have a regular changing stock and a friendly place to come into and of course we are situated in a very busy tourist centre, which probably helps more than anything else. We think we get it right most of the time but it’s more often luck than hard work. Like most of the tourist villages in Cornwall, Mevagissey has loads of independents and it’s fabulous. The staff are more often than not the owners and they know their products inside out. They care about what they sell and they want the customers to come back time and time again. And they do.

Look at St Austell town centre, how many independents are there? The town is finally growing again but none of the growth comes from local independent owners, over the last three years I seen loads of small businesses open and close again which is heartbreaking when you think of all the effort those people have put into starting up their business. And I can’t blame the customers, if the shop is offering the wrong product or too high a price who can blame them for choosing to shop elsewhere? But why can independents survive in Meva but fail 5 miles away in St Austell.

So let’s have lower rents and rates in St Austell, in fact why not waive rates for the first year and let the business get established? A more diverse range of shops and attractions will bring in more shoppers and away we go.
Now talking of independents I had a nice glass of port the other day from Del Monicos called Double Diamond of all things. Much loved by alchoholics and underage drinkers alike, that double diamond was a fairly foul beer, this Double Diamond however, is a very quaffable port. Pop in and treat yourself.

I’m also about to finish One Day by David Nicholls; it’s an enjoyable read following two friends as they leave Uni. in 1988 and how their lives twist and turn. It’s funny in parts and often I catch myself thinking “Oh god, I remember doing that!” I have a horrible feeling that it’s about to end badly because every one I’ve mentioned it to has gone “I loved that book but boy did I cry.” I wouldn’t have picked it up if I thought it was a weepy, I tend to avoid them. So I’m glad I didn’t know it about this because I’m really enjoying it. Maybe we’ve already had the weepy part and I didn’t notice?

p.s. Finished it now.  No, I hadn’t missed the weepy bit, it hit me on the next page.  Must say, I didn’t like the ending, not because it wasn’t happy but rather because it was so depressingly true to life.  I’m going to read a Terry Pratchett next.  True to life in only the way that four elephants balancing on the back of a turtle swimming through space can be.

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