When you work in a bookshop, you can usually tell when a fellow bookseller comes in. They’ll be the ones subtly straightening all your book displays and re-imposing alphabetical order on the poetry section.
If they work for a bookshop chain, you may hear them utter the words “staff discount” at some point to their friend, before walking out empty-handed.
On the outside, the fellow bookseller is a friendly creature who recognises one of his/her own, though of course underneath they might be thinking:
That book in hardback: I don’t think so.
On a recent holiday in the UK, I took it upon myself to visit/surreptitiously tidy a fellow independent bookshop. I loved the shop and the book displays didn’t require much straightening, but I was surprised to see a
sign on display behind the counter.
I asked about it and was told that the manager was fed up with people taking photos of the books with the purpose of buying them at a later time on Amazon.
(For the sake of brevity I’m calling this Bramazoning: browsing in bookshops, buying on Amazon).
This sign was their attempt to stop such behaviour.
It occurred to me that a ban on photography wouldn’t stop someone from just adding a book to their Amazon wishlist, but I held my tongue. No-one likes a clever dick (or dickette).
I also wasn’t sure how anyone working at the shop could tell that this (buying on Amazon) was the exact purpose of the photo-taking, though when you work in a shop, you do get an instinct for these things.
Of course the “customer” may have just said the A-Word out loud. People do under-estimate just how finely-tuned a bookseller’s hearing can be.
In my shop, we have been known to overhear the odd:
Come on. It will be cheaper elsewhere.
No, it’s not a proper bookshop.
and the slightly less frequent:
Is that woman wearing her pyjamas?
(If stripy tops are good enough for Edie Sedgwick, then they’re good enough for me. End of story.)
The act of Bramazoning is certainly an annoying phenomenon.
Imagine I’m having one of those bad-bookshop-days where any of the following might have happened:
- I’ve had no sales and it’s almost lunch-time.
- All I’ve heard so far is the ominous thump of books being dropped.
- Someone has walked a couple of titles around the shop (suggesting imminent purchase) before depositing them who knows where, and making an exit. It’s then taken me half an hour to locate the bloody things.
Fanny Hill in the Nature section. Nice try.
- I’m faced with the remark:
Wow, this shop is just like the one in Notting Hill.
(No it isn’t. But if I hit you in the face, it might be just like Rocky IV.)
So yes, if it was one of those days and a blatant Bramazoner came in and took a sneaky pic, I would probably be reaching under the counter for my small plastic Hermione’s Wand with which to stab them in the eye. Or I might just tut inaudibly. Either way, I’d be none too pleased.
However, thinking about matters off the battlefield so to speak, it seems to me that a total ban on photography is a bit extreme. In my experience, there are all sorts of valid reasons why somebody may be snapping away in your bookshop:
- Maybe they simply like your shop or a particular book in your shop and want to post a picture on social media. All books are in the public domain after all. They might even write a nice comment about you, and this is far more likely to happen if you haven’t admonished them for taking the photo in the first place.
- Perhaps they run a fantastic blog on bookshops such as The Bookshop Around the Corner and want to feature your shop. This is definitely a good thing.
- Maybe they are just young. Someone has to be. Young people catalogue everything: food, friends, fashion, shopping, roadkill (that might just be my niece). If you had seven social media sites and a video channel to fill up, you’d take photos of everything too.
- They could be scouting for presents for themselves, and are planning to drop a big fat juicy hint to a friend or family, telling them where to buy it in the process.
- It might be an author tweeting a picture of their own book. This happens more than you might think. Though you rarely see a car mechanic tweeting a picture of a car they’ve just mended:
So great to see Dave’s Peugeot driving away with its new camshaft bearing #pneumaticwrenchoclock
or a cow tweeting a photo of a Delicatessen:
Just thrilled at this window display of cheese made from acidified milk squeezed from my teats #fresianfriday
authors seem to get very excited when they spot their own book in a bookshop, and they have to inform the world immediately. Who are we to stop them?
It seems a shame to impose a rule that prevents or discourages any of the above.
This whole Bramazoning issue also taps into one of my pet bugbears in shops:
Who wants to be faced with a barrage of instructions when they arrive in a shop?
- No smoking.
- No eating.
- No drinking.
- No entry.
- No haggling.
- No photography.
I’ve seen No Unfolding signs in Sweater Shops and No Touching signs in Toy Shops.
(I assume this referred to the Toys, not just general fondling).
Either way, I didn’t buy a sweater or a toy and certainly not a toy sweater.
These signs really don’t set the scene for a bit of relaxed shopping.
There are all sorts of things not encouraged in independent bookshops:
- nude roller-skating
- self-published authors
but you don’t need a sign up for all of them. My instinct is always to keep these signs down to a bare minimum.
The next logical step from banning photography would be to adopt a complete No Mobile Phones policy.
I can see the appeal for bookshops of trying to bring back those pre-mobile halcyon days (the early 80’s basically) but I do start to wonder whether we aren’t veering into Holier Than Thou territory here:
How dare you defile my emporium with your heathen ringtone. You are in the presence of the hallowed written word. All hail the written word. I don’t care if you’ve arranged to meet your Mum and she’s five minutes late. This shop is a bespoke curated artisanal hub of cerebral nourishment I’ll thank you to know, and it demands your full attention and complete deferential respect. You can collect your confiscated telecommunications apparatus when the shop closes at 11pm, whereupon you will be required to write out the first 1000 lines of Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation.
Banning phones is fine if you are in the presence of the actual Book of Kells, but maybe a bit OTT for somewhere that has the potential to stock Len Deighton paperbacks.
Obviously it is completely rude and obnoxious if someone uses a phone in an Independent Bookshop, isn’t it?
Well, no. They are just treating your shop as they would the market, the supermarket, the newsagent, Waterstones, basically any other place in the outside world where people buy things and go about their everyday life at full ease.
I rather like my shop to be part of everyday life but maybe that’s just me.
When it comes to Bramazoners, yes, we’ve seen that shops can adopt prohibitive rules, but I have an alternative solution which I believe to be the best policy for booksellers faced with Bramazoning:
- Turn a blind eye and don’t rise to the bait.
Other than a general aversion to conflict in the workplace, here are some reasons why I believe this is the right way:
- I don’t really see Bramazoners as MY customers. Pre-Amazon, would these people be good, loyal Independent Bookshop customers? I don’t think so. So why start inventing rules for these people which may affect loyal customers too?
- We are lucky in our shop to have customers who look up books on Amazon and then buy them from their favourite high street bookshop, or possible their nearest, but they do it anyway, so three cheers for them! These guys do the opposite of Bramazoning. Lets call them AmazIndies. (See it on Amazon, buy it from an Indie.) Are there as many AmazIndies as there are Bramazoners? Who knows, but this seems to me a good reason to tolerate Bramazoning when it occurs. Cos The AmazIndies are out there too.
- Amazon is not the be all and end all. I say: let the Bramazoners go off and use it. Who knows what might happen:
- The book may get lost in the post, arrive damaged or be delivered to a neighbour who forgets to give it to you.
- Maybe a copy of Anthea Turner’s Perfect Christmas will be sent to them by mistake (there is always hope) and the person in question will learn a valuable lesson about ‘buying it when you see it,’ before returning to your bookshop a reformed book buyer. Or maybe not.
They definitely won’t return though, if you’ve been tutting at them or pointing to prohibitive signage or lecturing them about Amazon’s tax arrangements.
As far as I’m concerned, buying from Amazon is like male masturbation:
- Computer open.
- All over a bit quickly.
- Inevitable repeat behaviour.
- Nagging feeling that a lot of people have been exploited somewhere along the line.
- Absolute denial of activity when out of the house. I mean, have you ever seen anyone wearing Amazon merchandise in public? No, me neither.
- Frankly, just too much of it.
while buying from an Independent Bookshop is the female equivalent:
- Every experience is a little different.
- Bask in the warm fuzzy afterglow.
- Wear the Tote Bag with pride.
Now I am well aware that there are chaps who use Indie Bookshops and ladies who use Amazon, but nevertheless, I believe that it’s up to Indie Bookshops to help all people break free from habitual on-line purchasing, by giving them a wholesome and sociable space in which to browse and shop. We are only driving people back into the internet’s nether regions if we pick a fight with them or tell them they can’t take a photo.
So, while I don’t want to actively encourage the thoughtless or possibly just oblivious act of Bramazoning, I maintain that if you want to take photos in my shop, then please go ahead. I’m sure it’s fine in the majority of bookshops too, just not this particular one I visited.
And if you want a picture of me, that’s fine too, but like Mariah Carey, I have my best angles….and I don’t do stairs……and I can’t be shot in the same dress twice……