Here’s some food for thought from occasional Guardian book-blogger and Clarion graduate Damien G Walter. We all know that the book retail industry is in a bit of a pickle on both sides of the pond, but have you considered that it’s one of the few cultural spheres which receives no government assistance? Perhaps the state should step in and support book retailing in the same way as it does theatres, concert halls and museums? Take it away, Damo:
… these problems are all symptomatic of a fundamental crisis at the heart of both book-selling and publishing. Books and reading, among the most fundamental cornerstones of our cultural (and hence spiritual) life, have in recent years been allowed to slide into existing as a purely commercial industry. In every other area of our cultural life, visual arts, theatre, TV, etc etc, we acknowledge the need for public subsidy to mitigate the less pleasant outcomes of commercialism. But because of their relatively strong commercial basis (theatre would long since have disappeared outside London without subsidy) bookshops and publishers have not made a case (and perhaps have never tried) to get support from the state.
Would Waterstones be better able to fulfil our cultural needs beyond selling books if it received subsidy to do so? Would independent bookshops flourish if they could access grants to support their existence?
Is it time that bookshops and publishers made the case for public subsidy?
The obvious response to this (at least from me) is “isn’t that what libraries are for?”, but the counter-response would be “yeah, and when’s the last time the government increased library budgets with a focus on enhancing the experience of readers rather than drop-in internet users and community groups?” Over here in the UK, that was an awfully long time ago… and despite the best efforts of library staff up and down the country (plus some of the more dedicated borrowers), the situation gets worse every year. So maybe a strong campaign for increased library funding would be a better plan than suggesting recently-successful businesses go to the state with cap in hand… there’s plenty of recent evidence that state bail-outs rarely work the way they’re supposed to, after all.
How do you think the book retail industry can be rescued – if indeed it can (or should) be?