Thursday, August 30, 2012

Physical Books and CDs: Alive and Well in 2012 England

It's hard to find a bookstore or a CD shop any more. Have you noticed? Barnes & Noble are still around, along with a (very) few independent bookshops, re-sale CD shops, and in our area, the highly addictive Half Price Books (who do a mighty trade in CDs). In this neck of the woods, that's about it.

As a writer, the demise of the physical bookstore doesn't bother me - customers find me in a variety of digital venues. As a reader, it definitely does bother me. Same holds true for my musician husband when it comes to CDs and his recording / listening habits. He can distribute digitally, but prefers to have the physical CD (or even the vinyl, in some cases) for listening purposes.

Although this change might be a bit slower coming to other parts of the world, the digital age continues to gain ground. In this August 6, 2012 article, Michael Harper notes that in the UK, Amazon is selling 114 ebooks for every 100 paperback or hardback books sold, and the British are buying approximately four times more books now than before they owned an ereader. (That's good news for those of us who so far, only publish our books electronically.)

Two of the things I enjoyed most about living in England were the ability to walk to many of the places we wanted to go and the number of bookstores and music shops we came across on our walks. In June, my husband and I had the pleasure of traveling to England to visit his family in Norfolk County. One of the things we worried about before we took flight was how many of those lovely stand-alone book and CD shops we'd find, now that we've been away for five years. So much has changed in terms of the world's digital lives that we had serious cause for doubt.

It was with some trepidation that Martyn and I walked down London's Charing Cross Road in hopes of seeing Foyle's Bookshop and Ray's Jazz. To our delight, both exist and appear to be thriving.

The Stage at Ray's Jazz is still on Foyle's first floor, but with a larger seating area for the café. (If you have a chance, stop by for a great cup of coffee, scrumptious scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam, and free Wi-Fi.) The record shop is upstairs on the third floor now, with an expanded selection of music. Yup, you read that right: expanded selection. Music to Martyn's ears, so to speak.

With the exception of the Borders bookstores, we found almost all of the stores that we remembered open and doing quite well, in both Norwich and London. All the bookshops down Cecil Court were open, along with the Waterstone's on Oxford Street, Hatchard's on Piccadilly, and many of the independent shops.

The bookshops on Cecil Court

On the music front, although the Virgin store is long gone from Piccadilly Circus, HMV lives on in London and Norwich. We were pleasantly surprised to find the funky Fopp on Earlham Street still open (they're somehow linked to HMV now), and all the instrument shops down Denmark Street thriving.

The Earlham Fopp Shop
Denmark Street

What does the presence of all this populated brick and mortar mean? Although the digital age marches on, it seems there are a few holdouts for lovers of physical books and CDs. Across the pond, anyway. Given the rise of the ereader and other digital devices in England, it may not last. But hopefully those physical shops will hold on long enough for us to make another trip back - maybe next year...

Does having access to physical shops for books and records matter to you?

Girl Reading Book photo credit: Βethan via photo pin cc
All other photos via yours truly.

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