Among other things, Scott writes:
Less than a decade ago it would have been possible to walk into a branch of Waterstone’s, especially some of the London shops, and ask for the bestselling book in the country only to discover that they didn’t stock it because ‘it wasn’t our sort of thing’. I remember an occasion when one branch refused to unpack a science fiction promotion because ‘our customers don’t like sci fi’. The same shop would complain whenever we ran a Jacqueline Wilson offer as ‘she’s a terrible writer and our customers can’t stand her’. I am not making any of this up. Is this what Jeffries wants? Really?
I’m not entirely convinced that this is a bad thing. When — years ago now — I was hawking my own book around branches of Waterstone’s, I had assumed (along with the public, I think) that such bookshops are essentially autonomous. However, on every occasion, I was told that the manager/manageress lacked the power to make buying decisions (or was too worried to exercise it), even when the decision centred on four or five books of a local author. So if there was a time when the managers of Waterstone’s branches were less timid, I’d say winding the clock back would be no bad thing.
He goes on to say:
Waterstone’s has branches in towns across the land. In some of these places a new Andy McNab novel will sell 20 or 30 times more than a new Martin Amis. The stock and merchandising of the shop should reflect that.
Which I agree with. I can’t stand Martin Amis and thoroughly enjoyed Bravo Two Zero when I was a teenager.
There is an interesting question at the heart of this debate. What do you or I want in a bookshop? Personally, I don’t really want bookshops at all. I want the recommendations of my friends and a web browser that gets me to Amazon.
Literature and the shops that sell it are two dissociable entities. As are, I think, words and books themselves.