So given our enthusiastic engagement with all ‘days’ and ‘weeks’ of various themes, we felt it only appropriate to take pause for a moment and pay tribute to the humble, yet mighty book. In case it has passed you by, this week has so far been #climateweek#nationalapprenticeshipweek and will include #International womens day!
Of course we could gab on all day long about the moral significance of Dickens’ narrative structure or the lyricism of Edgar Allen Poe, but to mix it up a tad we have been having a think about something a little closer to our hearts… the changing face of the independent book shop scene.
Did you know that there are only around 1000 independent book shops left in the UK? It’s a striking figure with many in the industry putting forward various suggestions about the reasons for the declining numbers. In true Startacus style we have nabbed ourselves an interview with someone who has a unique take on the situation - none other than Tom Hodgkinson, editor of The Idler and founder of The Idler Academy. For those of you who are not yet acquainted with either, here’s a quick overview:
The Idler is a yearly magazine which is dedicated to vindicating the life of an Idler (someone who knows that lazing around and having Idle fun can be as, if not more productive, than incessant unpleasant work).
The Idler Academy is a school in London which embodies (for want of a better word) the ethos of The Idler, offering both real-world and online courses for independent creatives and also operating as a calm, quiet bookshop selling beautiful and unusual books and gifts.
So now that we had the ear of someone with such a unique approach, we took the opportunity to pick his brain on the changes taking place within the world of book retail.
So...World Book Day? How much impact does and can one day have on the book industry?
The book industry has been in crisis since it decided to drop the net book agreement which fixed prices. It has unfortunately fallen under the spell of Silicon Valley and even the chairman of Penguin has said that he wants to fill ebooks with "cool stuff". Very undignified. Luckily the ebook has been a bit of a failure and still accounts for less than 10% of book sales. The real destroyer of bookshops is Amazon, because it delivers books to your door the next day at half price. What bookshops could compete with that? Until our government grows a pair of cojones (in France they have limited Amazon's discounts to 10% in order to save bookshops) then we are stuck.
Random House and Penguin have merged in order to try to fight Amazon. In fact they have just had their sales conference so we'll see. Books will not die but they have been seriously undervalued. Advances have shrunk and there is a sea of rubbish out there. As far as books go, we have already seen a decline in quality and an increase in quantity. This suits big businesses who make money out of the vanity of talentless amateurs. But it makes no money for the amateurs and real writers have also been impoverished.
Aside from someone wanting to support their local and independent bookshop, what are the advantages of shopping in a local bookstore over Amazon?
It's obviously a lot more fun. You get to hang out and chat, and you can browse. You can have a coffee. Our problem is that people sit here for hours with a cup of tea and go home and buy the books on Amazon.
It’s recently been reported that there are now less than 1000 independent bookshops in the UK - 5 years from now what will the independent bookshop industry look like?
I have no idea. Unless the government does something then things will get worse and worse. One government minister recently called for a boycott of Amazon - how pathetic. The problem is that Amazon is so good - it is incredibly efficient.
Tell us all about the Idler Academy?
The Idler Academy is an attempt to create a top quality school for free spirits. It was founded with the principle of the ancient Greek education in mind: education is for life and it is not just about getting a job. The liberal education was the one created for free men and women. Not slaves. So we teach music, grammar, handwriting and calligraphy, classical music, Greek philosophy, eastern philosophy, mindfulness, singing, dancing and drawing. We aim to educate the whole person to help people live more fulfilled lives. It is also a very convivial place and enormous fun.
Is the Idler Academy a good example of a multi-functional and successful bookstore / cafe/ teaching / training space?
I hope so.
You've a couple of cult best selling books yourself - any advice for the aspiring author?
The only advice is to write a book that people will actually want to read.
What's next for the Idler brand and also any sneak peek news on future Tom Hodgkinson books?
Next for the Idler Academy is our online courses programme. We are filming our courses and will be selling them via the Internet so people all over the world can teach themselves about Socrates in their lunch hour on their phone or tablet or whatever. I am planning a new book as well but nothing has been commissioned yet.
Thanks for some really interesting insights Tom and best of luck with all your plans for the coming year! If you fancy the life of an Idler then why not pop over to The Idler Academy website?
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