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TheBookGuide - Now We Are Ten

TheBookGuide turned ten in 2011 but for some reason I've found myself uncharacteristically lost for words. I feel I should say something but where to begin? The question I'm most frequently asked is 'why do you do it'? - So perhaps that's the place to start.

If I'm honest the answer is that I don't really know why I do it, but I suspect I'm simply contrary. Let's face it; why else would I still be attempting to make a living from running a secondhand bookshop after more than thirty years?

Not that I have ever really been a full-time bookseller as all sorts of other projects have vied for my attention over the years. Helping to save historic buildings; fighting planning enquiries, councils and a court case, setting up a charitable trust … and perhaps the one thing they've tended to have in common is that they've been both time consuming and financially un-rewarding.

Most of them have also been about 'community', but unlike David Cameron's 'Big Society', my interest has always been in the small … the graspable … the doable. Well, some of these things turned out not to be doable, but that's another story.

By the millennium I'd had it with endless meetings and compromise, so grappling with the seismic changes that were beginning to engulf the secondhand book trade provided a welcome and necessary change of focus.

We had been fairly early internet adopters, selling books on line by late 1996 and putting up our first website in 1998. But even then, on this first rudimentary site, I included a list of other Gloucestershire bookshops and fairs :)

Do bear in mind that the original idea for TheBookGuide was born in another age - the dot-com bubble was yet to burst, the potential of the internet seemed almost limitless, and net savvy bookdealers were starting to clean up on the fledgling bookselling websites.

In those circumstances the idea of using the immediacy and connectivity of the internet to provide up-to-date and reliable information about how and where to get physical with old books seemed like a no-brainer.

Originally I'd hoped to combine the guide with a searchable database of the listed dealer's books, as it seemed to me that such a site might help those of us who wished to continue running bookshops and attending fairs, to survive.

Obviously, the bookselling database part failed to materialise. This is probably just as well, as over the past ten years almost all of the small independent bookselling sites have disappeared, incapable of making the economics work.

However, the only thing you really need to publish stuff on the net, is time. So until recently the development of the guide part of the site has been determined by how much time and money I was prepared to spend on my 'hobby'.

But during the past year TheBookGuide seems to have achieved some sort of critical mass, and perhaps even come of age. Most importantly this new found maturity means that for the first time the prospect of advertising paying for site development looks a distinct possibility.

I think the explanation for this change is simple - your growing enthusiasm for using and updating the site. It would simply be impossible to keep the content as fresh and relevant without the constant stream of updates and corrections readers like you provide.

And I can only say I've been amazed that so many of you take the trouble to send in all those typo reports and grammar corrections, the notices of openings and closings, news items, and the expressions of thanks and support.

You've also sent in nearly 250 bookshop reviews during the past six months, and whilst a few of these have proved to be controversial, the majority are interesting, informative, and most importantly, helpful. We've even received a few book fair reviews this year!

So, at the end of a decade in which the physical book trade has never been under greater threat, perhaps it is possible to make such a website work - you just need to be bloody-minded and have the active support of people who are determined to keep real book browsing alive. And who knows, maybe this latest and most enduring distraction from bookselling won't turn out to be the most fiscally punishing :)

All that remains is to thank you, and to raise a glass to the next ten years. Happy Christmas.

Mike Goodenough
Editor
23.12.11.

Photo courtesy of Rufus Goodenough aged six and three quarters

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