My first job when I left school was working in a bookshop. The shop was called Claude Gill, it was part of a small chain, and after I’d worked there for a year or so it was taken over by a larger chain called Dillons. Dillons were campaigning strongly against the Net Book Agreement (NBA); this was code amongst bookshops, stationers and publishers that books would always be sold for the printed price on the cover unless agreed between everyone concerned; it was created to protect independent bookshops and publishers from larger rivals being able to sell at unfair discounts.
Of course, in the free market this is unacceptable. Dillons wanted to be able to provide heavy discounts and ‘3‑for‑2’ offers and they organised a petition against the NBA, and as a Dillons staff member I had to promote the petition to customers. Inevitably, the NBA was abolished and a whole new era of bookselling began; dominated, of course, by the big chains and multinational publishers. Once the supermarkets got involved, the writing was on the wall for the independents. Dillons, by the way, were bought out by Books Etc; they, in turn were bought by the American chain Borders.
So what does this have to do with Camberwell? It seems that Wordsworth is closing down. An already difficult market has been made impossible by the never-ending refurbishment to Butterfly Walk. Unable to offer 50% discounts on the new Harry Potter novels like the supermarkets and online retailers, offered no help from the publishers due to their low levels of buying, hamstrung by their landlords, they will be closing down after christmas.
That will leave no alternative in Camberwell. No booksellers. The nearest retailers will be WH Smiths in Peckham, Brixton or Elephant; if you want a book that’s not in the current bestsellers list you’re out of luck. If you want to attend talks by local authors or about local issues, you’re out of luck. If you want to ask informed staff about their recommendations, you’re out of luck. It is, as Ben says, a disaster.
Is there anything we can do? If it’s not too late, help them out by buying. Accept the fact that you’re going to spend a couple of quid more on the latest books and justify it with the knowledge that you’re keeping the heart of Camberwell alive. Tell people about what’s happening and ask them to spend their christmas pounds locally. Petitions won’t work, but market forces can go a long way.
Everyone seems to accept that part of the reason we like Camberwell is the fact that it isn’t the same as everywhere else; that is, dominated by the same old High Street names. Losing Wordsworth would be a terrible portent for independent retailing.