UK Children’s Bookstores: Holding Their Own In an eReader Age
Children’s bookstores in the UK are holding their own in the age of digital books and ereaders, says a new report from the Booksellers Association. While 73 independent bookstores closed in 2011, not a single children’s bookstore did. Purchases of children’s books rose slightly, too, both in terms of value and of volume, according to research from Books And Consumer.
It is heartening news given what seems to be the steady closure of bookstores due to Internet retailers and digital books. Sales of printed books have fallen to their lowest in nine years, but children’s books are holding strong.
The reason? Says Philip Jones, deputy editor of trade publication The Bookseller, in the BBC,
“There are more apps and things for children, but parents are still buying the hard board books and illustrated books we all know and love.
“It’s very hard to replicate that experience in digital format. I think most parents still feel there’s a sort of safety in print, it’s still the medium of choice.”
Jones singles out sticker books as one area where there has been “big growth,” such “interactive print books” having features that cannot be replicable on iPads and Kindles. Other old stand-bys are paper dolls books requiring you to punch or cut everything out and coloring books, connect-the-dots and — definitely not replicable on an iPad — pop-up books.
Of course, there are app-equivalents for all of these. But along with the sensation of picking up a book and turning the pages, coloring with crayons or markers or pastels or paints is satisfying (and potentially messy, which can be some of the fun of it) in ways that scrolling your fingers around to “fill” a screen with color is not.
The BBC also quotes Jeff Doak of Mr & Mrs Doak’s Bumper Bookshop for Boys and Girls in Eastbourne, East Sussex, about the particular pleasures of children’s bookstores:
People are definitely supporting their local communities more, too, not just in bookshops. It could be that there is a bit of an Amazon backlash at the moment, as they don’t put any money back into the community. We have a lot of local customers, I think people are realising the importance of their local bookshops.
The whole thing about a local bookshop is that it’s a theatrical experience, something that customers wouldn’t get if they bought something online. We’re doing crafts, stationery and a lot of Tintin products to go with the books. The parents can have tea and cake and sit with their children while they choose what book they want. It’s an enjoyable experience.
As Doak points out, a book costs the same as “two cups of coffee.” While pages can be ripped, water-drenched, scribbled upon and otherwise sullied, books (especially many made for children) are tough. A throw or drop doesn’t mean a trip to the Genius Bar and they do not need rugged protective cases. Certainly they don’t need recharging and if you get sand on them from the beach, it is a matter of brushing it off.
I’ve always been a big fan of books and have very happy memories of visiting a (sadly, long since) defunct store, Rakestraw Books, in California’s Contra Costa suburbs. It had a special children’s section with everything carefully arranged; the owners were extremely kind and encouraging of my sister’s and my extended browsing sessions. (We always left with a book each, as my parents were ever glad to buy books.) When my now-teenage son Charlie was a toddler, we lived in St. Paul where there was a wonderful children’s bookstore, The Red Balloon, outfitted with little chairs and tables in a house-like structure.
Charlie, who is moderately to severely autistic, is not a reader, despite many efforts. He has some ebooks on his iPad and has shown the same amount of (minimal) interest for these as he has for paper books. Although, just this weekend, on a hot summer’s night when he was tired but not yet ready for sleep and had used the iPad to listen to music throughout the day, I pulled out a book. To my surprise, Charlie said “yes” to hear me read it and then repeated my reading of each page’s sentences.
He has not asked since to have a book read to him. I have actually given most of our once extensive library of children’s book to a cousin with two young children. I’m glad I kept a few that have gathered some dust — it might be time to make a new purchase or two.
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