Wordsworth books in peril

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.

Author: Peter

Long-time resident of Camberwell, author of this blog since July 2004.

29 thoughts on “Wordsworth books in peril”

  1. That is indeed very sad news, as you said in the Blog, more to do with what’s going on in the world of books rather than Camberwell itself. I don’t think the other shops in that arcade realise what a asset it is. A whole demographic of people wont go there anymore because all that’s left is overpriced Somerfield and tacky pound shops – lets not forget Mc Donald’s. I think it’s down to the owners of butterfly walk to give them a break on their rent in turn adding to the arcade and helping the other shops. Good old subsidising for the greater good. After all you can’t get better than an independent bookshop. Does anyone know what’s going on in STORIES MEWS behind the top end of Camberwell Grove, near the George Canning pub. There seems to be two major areas of development going on up there!

  2. I noticed that too NickW. The building on the corner of Stories Street and Stories Mews was knocked down this week –

    It’s all surface level though, it doesn’t look like they went deep enough to lay foundations for a building (But saying that, it’s possible they didn’t get enough time to break up the concrete floor during the week).

    Either way, I’m interested in knowing what’s going on thier, as it’s right opposite my building.

  3. Noooo! Wordsworth books can’t close down‑i love that place, it’s not only brilliant for books but little magazines and really cool cards, along with the Sun and Doves and Camberwell Superstore (who are brilliant at DIY advice for rubbish girls like me )it’s definitely one of the things that makes Camberwell special.

    I think we should produce a guide to all of Cambewrwells cool little independent shops, bars and restaurants so people are encouraged to use them abd not just head into town or up the hill to Sainsburys. On a similar sad note has anyone else noticed that the Famous Walworth Road Cafe has turned into a Subway?

  4. I hope my wife wasn’t making it up.

    I’ve noticed that Subways are “doing a Starbucks” and buying up lots of existing sandwich bars. I went to go to a little sandwich bar in Victoria the other day and it had turned into a Subway. A coach had pulled up outside and was disgorging about 50 American schoolchildren.

  5. Gah! I hate it when this happens. I’m afriad I suckle at the corporate teat myself, publishing a quarterly magazine for Waterstone’s (a man’s gotta earn a living) but I never buy books from a chain.

    I like the idea of publishing a guide and will be willing to help out if anyone’s up for it!

    Hannah — when did the Walworth Road Cafe close? Have fond memories of the big old Italian lady and the old fella she was always yelling at.

  6. It closed a few weeks ago apparently — be on your guard Subway is on the march there is already one at Peckham — it can only be a matter of time before we get one in Camberwell.

  7. Shame, it’s a good place with an interesting selection. Although I’m reminded that only last week they advised me to go to ‘one of the big bookshops’ rather than ordering what I wanted from them. Maybe they’re too helpful for their own good.

    For those talking about a guide to independent shops etc in the area, why not start on the internet? I have a feeling the fellow from the Sun & Doves might be interested in helping with this.

    Lastly, I hate to sound like whatever this sounds like, but can someone tell me where I can get a decent cup of coffee in Camberwell, apart from at home?

  8. Esperanza is good for coffee too.

    An online guide selling Camberwell is a good idea. There is little material online about Camberwell at the moment.

    How about using https://www.camberwellonline.co.uk as the home page for this? It has the perfect descriptive URL for our purposes.
    How do you feel about that Peter? Maybe use some of the flickr pictures on there too? Links to independent businesses and ‘whats going on‘ etc?

  9. That sounds like a good idea — i’m sure there enough people who read this Blog who are passionate enought about Camberwell to make a website work.

  10. When I bought this domain, my aim was to do exactly that; the first step was setting up the blog, because that was easy. But then life got in the way, and I ended up not building any more pages. However, if other people were interested I’d be happy to start up the plans again.

    I think the best way would be to create a Wiki — that is, pages which anybody can edit and add to. Kind of like Wikipedia, but just about Camberwell’s independent bars & shops.

    Who’s with me?

  11. Great idea — could put little cards or something in all of our favourite local venues too so people know it exists

  12. Okay, no official launch yet because I’m still learning myself, but anyone who’s interested in getting a Camberwell Wiki off the ground should take a look at this.

  13. Great idea — i’ll have a think about my contribution! maybe it wouldn’t work but would it be an idea to have a news section — we really lack a good local newspaper round here and it would be good to have a section about all sorts of things going on in Camberwell (not just the murders and stabbings)

  14. Changing the subject (but on the theme of supporting local business)the new restaurant area is open at the New Dewaniam on Camberwell New Road. It looks great from outside, all white table clothes and modern furniture. I think they’re showing Bollywood movies on plasma screens around the middle of the dinning area too. It all seems like a big improvement on what I already thought was a good place to eat but I haven’t been yet and wondered if anyone else had?

  15. I am very disappointed about this news. As I tend to leave all my shopping to the very last minute I can assure you that everyone I know will be getting books from Wordsworths this Crimbo.

  16. I can’t believe Wordsworth Books is closing down — I just called them and they confirmed this terrible news. Closing date 14 July. They have been a tremendous support for local authors and their absence will make Camberwell a poorer place. Let’s hope REVIEW Books in Peckham survives.

  17. Closing date is unfortunately 14th January, not 14th July and they will be have 25% off all stock from the 28th Dec.

    Definately happy to contribute to a Camberwell orientated web site.

  18. I’m in Northumberland for Christmas and New Year, the last time I had a chance to look at the Camberwell Blog was the last time I was here — in July. Not enough time… fighting a rent review at The Sun and Doves and I’ve been setting up SE5Forum for Camberwell… There’s a lot of — grant — money around to feed into it… It just needs objectives and goals that accurately reflect what people who live in the area want. Last time I made a posting here I got a bit of email traffic. What’s needed in Camberwell is a bit of coordinated work between the many people who love the area and understand its value, towards forcing local authorities to get their act together and work to regenerate the area properly instead of leaving it up to offshore freeholders like those who own Butterly Walk (re Wordsworth) and St George (Mary Datchelor) who don’t give a flying toss for holistic development or community.

    Mark By the way it’s se5forum.org very new and needs content. please sign up if you can — no obligation. Would a link to this blog be OK?

    Also — Do you know we do exhibitions at The Sun and Doves? I’ve been looking at some of the photos here. Some very good — some are also a good record of the area. Any of you be interested in having a show at S&D?

    Happy 2006

  19. That’s bad news about Wordsworth. Re: good coffee — echo sentiments about Esperanza and Seymours — also the new Portuguese place (Chave De Douro?) just up from Norris Bedding is good.

  20. Re: demise of Wordsworth Books. (I’m a bit late here, I know, sorry…) I was as disappointed as everyone else above about their closure as it was a great shop and was one of the more interesting independent shops in Camberwell. I’m planning to open a shop in Camberwell (if I can find suitable property, which is proving a nightmare). I don’t want to see it go downhill any more and see yet more rubbish pound shops! I’m hoping to appeal to like-minded people who appreciated Wordsworths, and who love all the other great independent, friendly shops like Pesh Flowers, Basic, etc. (i.e. probably lots of you who contribute to this site!) If anyone hears of any upcoming retail property on Denmark Hill or around the Green, I’d be grateful for any info. (Probably not Butterfly Walk tho.) Re: magazine idea — Ritchie, I have a publishing / editorial background and would be interested in offering my skills to help out with this — it sounds a great idea. Finally Peter, The Castle is my local. I’d like to come and say hello, but I need to know what you look like… can you remind me of where the flikr pics are please?!

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