As this month sees the loss of three of the fixtures of the British high street – Jessops, HMV and Blockbuster – I’m reminded of Wellington’s own loss. Three months ago Wellington Bookshop shut up shop.
The posters in the window tell a sorry tale, the dog-eared “This is a happy place” and the more recent addition: “Closing down 40 per cent off all books”.
Here is yet another casualty of the online age that has resulted in the death of so many bookshops. In December the Daily Telegraph reported that the number of high street bookshops in Britain had halved in seven years leaving just 1,878 bookshops. In 2005 there were 4,000. Meanwhile research from Mintel showed that £261 million was spent on e-books in 2012 while sales of physical books fell to £3.1 billion.
Wellington is far from alone in losing its independent bookshop, as independents in other West Country towns such as Yeovil, Barnstaple, Truro and Tiverton have seen similar fates.
But there is hope. Just a short drive away in Taunton, the independent Brendon Books has survived despite the presence of a chain, Waterstones, nearby, showing that there is still support for a bookshop when it is a special place.
The shop in Bath Place is so much more than somewhere to buy books. It organises the Taunton Literary Festival and events throughout the year. It also has a café and produces a free 56-page arts magazine Lamp. So what’s the trick to surviving in these difficult times?
Owner Lionel Ward says: “Our events, including the annual Taunton literary festival, promote the bookshop and bring in extra income.
“But I feel very sorry for the Wellington bookshop. I am not finding it easy. I’ve been at the bookshop for the past 24 years but the past three or four years have been the most difficult of all.
“People are buying online, digital books are making a difference and then there’s the recession itself.” As The Times’s literary editor Erica Wagner commented recently: “Bookshops need to make themselves distinctive… Booksellers can build a devoted following. It’s the only way, now.”
Lionel says that if thinks are to get better on Britain’s high streets there needs to be an examination of the high rents and rates. “Compared with America costs here are much higher,” he adds.
Returning sadly to Wellington Bookshop I notice that its website is illustrated by a picture of a book and a quotation from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe author C.S. Lewis: “We read to know we are not alone”.
Since the closure of this shop this book lover feels just a little bit more alone, sad face.