My Dad sent me an article from the Daily Telegraph (Saturday 23 September, page 3) about his friends Patrick Neale and Polly Jaffe, who own a bookshop in Chipping Norton, the Cotswold market town about three miles from where he lives. Patrick and Polly are opening a new bookshop in the town, with cafe, in an attempt to attract more customers. (Hope they have read Army of Davids and include wireless Internet connection!).
The newspaper article, however, although featuring a large photo of Patrick and Polly and their attractive new shop, is mainly about a new website called localbookshops.co.uk. About 150 local, independent booksellers in the UK collaborate for the site, whose MD is quoted as saying could do anything Amazon and Waterstone’s do but "potentially a lot better". The idea is that customers can browse and order books online via an honest stock-control system (Amazon’s infamous "delivery in 4-6 weeks" was mentioned), then either collect them or have them delivered from their local bookshop.
It is an excellent initiative and I hope it is successful in the attempt to save independent bookstores. One very attractive feature is that email enquiries are said to be dealt with by the bookshops themselves, which if true would be a refreshing change from the ghastly "customer service" of Amazon et al., mainly designed to stop you from actually contacting the seller by sending you all round the houses of various web pages, and if you do succeed, your query is answered by someone in a distant land who can’t understand the question unless it is from a preselected menu of six.
Returning to the local books website, it seems user-friendly in terms of search and ordering (though the prices don’t look to be discounted). But when I keyed in my postcode (I live on the south-west edge of London) I was returned only one local bookshop, in Weybridge — quite a way from where I live and where I would never go in the usual scheme of things. I know that there are independent bookshops nearer to me than Weybridge (though, sadly, not in Kingston upon Thames), so the site needs to attract more booksellers to sign up. For my part, I would use such a service if convenient to me, but it would not stop me from simultaneously continuing my compulsive use of Amazon, which despite some less-than-perfect aspects, is pretty ace for almost everything.