Shooting The Supermarket

May 25th, 2005 · 2 Comments
by Booksquare

Maybe we’re reading too much into this opinion piece from The Guardian, but it appears that bringing the books that people want to read to them is anti-democratic. Lower prices and convenience are bad. The legacy of Penguin will not be the fact that more readers could afford books, but that more readers could afford books. Next thing you know, the masses will be attending the opera*.

Even George Orwell worried about the likely effect on the book trade, reasoning that someone with five shillings to spend on books would probably settle for three sixpenny paperbacks rather than two half-crown hardbacks.

. . .

This is not to lament the vast sales racked up Dan and Tony, merely to suggest that there are other books lingering in the publishers’ catalogues whose chances of straying into the public’s line of vision are proportionately reduced every time another supermarket deal gets struck.

The trouble with the argument posed by DJ Taylor is that certain assumptions are made. First, of course, is that supermarkets are stealing sales from bookstores. While there is likely a certain truth to this argument, it is also likely that the readers in question have limited time and energy. If the choice is between stopping at the grocery store or stopping at the bookstore, it stands to reason that feeding the family will take priority (this is why we have cats; we don’t have to make the hard choices).

The second assumption is that all readers are created equal. They are not. We wish they were, but there are readers who truly desire the three sixpenny paperbacks. Those three books contain stories that touch something inside the reader while the two half-crown books might not.

Blaming the supermarkets is a bit like shooting the messenger. Satisfying for a little while, but only as long as the big problem can be ignored.

* – Yes, we know.

File Under: Square Pegs

2 responses so far ↓

  • KathyF // May 26, 2005 at 9:14 am

    What they really don’t like is the convenience of buying books anywhere but a bookseller, which is not where you go to buy newspapers or magazines–that’s a newsagent, where you won’t find books. (There are also lots of bookmakers, where you also find no books but lots of bookies, which do not have the same relationship to books that foodies have to food.) So if you want a novel and a copy of say, The Guardian, you have to go to two places–or to one of the “superstores” which are like our grocery stores (Kroger, Safeway, etc.) but smaller.

    You will also find plenty of articles in The Guardian bemoaning the rise of Tesco’s, which is where I went today to buy groceries and The Guardian, silly me, when I could have gone to a green grocers, a DIY store (for lightbulbs) and a newsagents, and had thrice as much fun.

    They are very careful to guard against the unwanted upsurge of convenience here.

  • Booksquare // May 26, 2005 at 11:31 am

    I’m not going to say anything, but it is a country that puts the first floor up higher than is traditional (g)…