The Experience

I’ve been doing a lot of research for my documentary project ‘the decline in bookstores’ and was intrigued by Philip Jones’s article stating:

“subsidies cannot, and should not, save independent shops… owners and publishers have to make them unique places to visit.”

unique places to visit..

Part of the selling point of Waterstones is the integrated Costa and the small number of comfy chairs that are dotted around its stores. WHSmiths in Truro used to have one comfy chair in it that was always occupied. One of the highlights of going round the shops when I was a kid (aside from playing with the train set in the Early Learning Centre) was sitting in book shops and looking through all the Roald Dahl and Jacqueline Wilson books. Even more so when the weather was gloomy.

There’s something so satisfying about sitting on a comfortable chair in a warm room with a book in your hand listening to the rain pour down outside.

Myself, mother and brothers would spend up to an hour, waiting for my rogue father to return from the record shops, looking at books. We’d never buy any because we didn’t have the money, but we’d browse and that was better than nothing. I had a soft spot for poetry. Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes and Gez Walsh’s The Spot on my Bum. Those are both books I’ll be reading to the children/grand children.

It made me think; Philip Jones has a point. Why is it, do you think, that Starbucks is so popular?

It’s comfortable. It’s warm. It’s light. It’s inviting. It has soft furnishings and big, heavy mugs that heat your cold hands up in the winter. It’s welcoming.

This is what a book shop should be like. Ever since online shopping came along we lost the need to go out. If you wanted a book, you used to have to go out and buy it. Book shops didn’t need to invite you in, apart from to keep up with competition on the high street. Now the competition is digital. It’s so easy to buy books elsewhere it strikes me that shops need to do something more to keep customers coming to their stores. They need to remind people of why bookstores are so great.

We need to get back to the physical.

We’ve lost the experience. Shopping has become instantaenous thanks to the internet. Sure you have to wait for your product to be delivered, but it means you needn’t leave the house. With prices cheaper online and in supermarkets people will ditch book stores for quicker and cheaper alternatives. Popular titles now sit beside the milk and tiger loaf in your trolley.

It’s just not the same.
We need to reintegrate the idea that book stores are worth spending our free time in. They’re warm, carpeted, wood-panelled havens that smell of paper back novels and sometimes coffee (twice the nasal satisfaction).

I’m probably biased (by probably I mean definitely); not everybody likes books. But for me, in my dream home, I gots me one of theeeeese.

[I fantasise about wooden step ladders on wheels]

Click like for this being, probably, my shortest blog post ever.


Paperback or plasticback?


It’s a period that’s been looming ever closer since the wistful (and let’s be honest , not that greatly missed) rolling news days and now it’s finally here. Presentations are in a weeks time – ARRGGGHH – and I need to buck up my ideas and come up with a 10 minute visual and verbal display of what I plan to achieve over the next couple of months and how I plan on doing it.

Radio or TV?

So far it’s been pretty easy, mostly because I haven’t done anything. I decided pretty quickly what I wanted to do my project on and Chazza B liked it. SHOCKER. Normally the hardest thing for me, being incredibly indecisive, is choosing what to do (or buy, or eat, or wear). However I have um’ed and arr’ed and see sawed my way over the last few weeks between whether to do my final project as a TV or Radio documentary. Eventually I came to the decision (with the help of Tim Hubbard) to go back to my original plan and do radio.

Now comes the research stages. I’ve taken drastic measures and set my home page to The Bookseller (not even kidding) and have begun tweeting and emailing people that I hope to interview. It’s already become clear that getting people to talk to me isn’t going to be easy. Slightly worrying…

Oh yeah, haven’t actually mentioned what I’m doing it on yet. The Decline in Bookstores. Three cheers for cultural creativity!

Something I have noticed since reading up the background on my chosen topic is that sales in books aren’t down – people are reading more than ever. This shouldn’t be confused with the fact that independent book stores are closing down; the market is thriving, but it has changed. People are consuming commodities in different ways – mammoth retailers HMV and GAME have suffered similarly because of it. The internet/technology/electronic devices are changing the way we buy.

I’m traditional.

I love reading books. I love the smell, I love looking at the spine and seeing how far you’ve got into the story, I love reading them in the bath, I love turning the pages in fast paced thrillers knowing there’s going to be something explosive on the other side, I love borrowing them off people and lending them. I love the simplicity. I love that I don’t have to switch it on to use it.

However I can see why people like Kindles. Personally they’re not for me – but they’re a force to be reckoned with and something which cannot be ignored.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos speaks at a news conference in front of a graphic showing the rise in sales of Kindle books (Picture: Reuters)

An estimated one in 40 UK adults received a Kindle for Christmas, with John Lewis saying that at one point they were selling a Kindle every 30 seconds.

Brigid Macleod, sales and marketing director at Granta Books, said the Publishing Association’s Statistics Yearbook figures confirm that ‘a sharp decline in sales of physical fiction titles has been almost entirely accounted for by sales of ebooks.’ *

But it’s not just the Kindle.

Online retailers like Amazon and supermarket giants Tesco and ASDA are the main contributers to the downfall of bookstores, and not just your independent ones. Waterstones have closed down branches in the UK and discontinued their ongoing 3 for 2 offer on popular titles. ASDA was famously slammed in 2007 when they released Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows for under £9; almost half the R.R.P. I know this because I’d just started working there.

Bookstores cannot compete.

 So what does the future hold? Are specialist shops going to continue their downward spiral as more people switch to mp3s and ebooks and buy online? What can book shop owners do in light of the recent Kindle fever?

Well folks, this is what I’ll be asking in my doco . I’ll be taking you with me on my journey of enlightenment, through the passages of time and the delights of public transport and technicalities of JVC cameras and interviewing techniques.

At least I’ve got one thing sorted; my first music clip for my documentary. The Beatles seem ubiquitous in my life at the moment.

Of course it’s not just the UK that’s suffering. Bookstores are in decline in the US too. Check out this overtly American news package for Fox TV. Seriously.. you watch things like this and realise how completely different the Americans are from the Brits. You don’t want to miss the 10 second interview with 13 year old brace wearing Keeaarstan Campbell, trust me.

Port Eliot: a Spoonful of Steve Parker

Last Thursday I got up super early (about 8:30…) and took a trip through Penryn with Dick Dastardly aka Patrick Clahane to interview DJ Spoonful aka Stephen Parker aka Parker – this could get very confusing – in aid of the Port Eliot festival.

Quashing first impressions.

I’d heard he had a gold tooth and a record player in his kitchen and was expecting a grubby, vinyl hoarding middle aged man who winks at young girls and would greet me with the words ‘alright love’. Well, he did have a record player in his kitchen which was, for want of a better expression, sooo coool and he did have a gold tooth; but the gold tooth was becoming, he wasn’t grubby and he was quite the gentleman.

A family man at heart, hes’ the house wife to three daughters and within the first ten minutes of our meeting described to us the moment he met his wife, saying she was ‘completely gorgeous’. Call me a sucker, but that pretty much won me over straight away. When I envision my future (if I ever get married) husband describing  our first meeting it goes something along the lines of ‘she had a mental cackle and was so ginger it made the sockets of my eyes ache.’

Massive tangent.

DJ Spoonful turned out to be full of surprises. He’s the kind of guy you’d love to have as an uncle or grandad (though perhaps I’m biased); he has vinyl in pretty much every orifice of his house, drinks out of a Mr Men mug and most importantly owns 3 sheds – the coolest of which is his own personal music getwaway and where we filmed the interview.

He has stories to tell about that shed. We only heard a couple but they painted a clear enough picture; the shed is legendary.His outdoor nirvana is fully rigged: CD sound system, record player, vinyl on the walls, fairy lights, bottles of alcohol along a shelf and a can of snake soup as the centre piece..

He’s supposedly had 30 people in there.

So now I have a kitted out music shed to add to my library with open fire and tennis court sized kitchen to my dream home. Parker gave us a mini musical education on jazz and an insight into what the music business used to be like. It couldn’t get much cooler – could it?

Well, turns out he’s a bit of a photographer and went on tour with the Happy Mondays and took pictures for music magazines NME, Melody Maker, Sounds and Record Mirror.

He also has this incredible photo of a sidewalk in America featuring the largest lampost I’ve ever seen on his floor in the dining room. It reminded me of Lee Friedlander’s work (this is where I show off my Photography A-Level prowess). If I was rich and ballsy I would offer him a lot of money for that picture… wonder if he’s got the negative somewhere.

Although these days Spoonful works from home taking pictures for photo catalogues and professes to be too shy to become a photography lecturer – he still has an insatiable love for music and for the past few years has DJed at the Port Eliot festival – which is where Dick Dastardly and I shall be milling around filming and voxing later on this summer. Caught by the River is where you can find him, and interestingly when asked how he decides what music to play each year he said he normally bases it on the weather.

As someone who colour codes their outfits depending on how bleak or bright it is; I was strangely able to relate to this.

Spoonful also produces a radio show FreeRange Music for The Source, Falmouth’s community radio station, which he does in his kitchen with besty Mike.

Parker gave us a real taste for the Port Eliot festival and spoke of it with such enthusiasm and sentimentality I can’t help but feel excited. It was so nice to hang out with someone who’s genuinely passionate about music. The only single bad thing about our meeting was having to endure being bossed around by camera man Patrick Clahane.

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