Gillian Robertson: Online book sales lack personal touch

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This week, over 360 bookshops around the UK are taking part in Independent Booksellers Week (IBW), a week-long celebration of independent bookshops.

As well as promoting the idea of shopping locally and sustainably, IBW also highlights the stark issues facing bricks and mortar bookselling.

In an age where online book shopping has become the norm, I feel that book selling and buying can become a distant and disengaging experience. Online booksellers and big chains offer the perception of choice when, in my experience, the reality is that readers are often overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of books available. As a consequence, the diversity of their reading decreases.

As an independent bookseller, I know that readers don’t use bookshops for the sole purpose of selecting and paying for a book – they come for the adventure of browsing books and finding something unexpected that strikes a chord.

In Looking Glass Books we hear time and again that they come to the bookshop when they don’t really know what it is they’re looking for – and invariably they find something that inspires them.

Independent bookshops can offer an environment that encourages browsing and introduces books that customers might not “happen upon” online or in a larger chain store. Independents seem uniquely placed to fill that void left by the growth of online shopping and the homogenization of our high street. As an independent bookshop we really do get to know our customers.

With a packed schedule of author events and children’s storytimes, bookshops are a real hub for their local community. For IBW, globally acclaimed author Ruth Ozeki, winner of the 2013 Independent Booksellers Book Award, will be coming to talk to us about her most recent novel –A Tale for the Time Being – an experience impossible to recreate online.

With Edinburgh having such a rich literary heritage, it made sense to open up a bookshop here. The reaction to the shop so far has been phenomenal and we have received incredible support from the Edinburgh community. That, and the very fact that Independent Booksellers Week exists and the outpouring of support for it, says something about the value independent bookshops can add to the local community.

• Gillian Robertson, is a Bookseller at Looking Glass Books