March 20, 2020

London indies get on their bikes, bringing books to the people


Hackney: about to to be cycled all over (Hackney London UK blank ward map.svg: Nilfanion, created using Ordnance Survey dataderivative work: Doc77can / CC BY-SA)

What more can be said about this unknown territory? In the midst of a global pandemic, nothing feels certain or stable. On a daily basis, we are battered with unprecedented, historic news events—all far too big to comprehend now. What’s already becoming clear is that this is a crisis that, once it has played out, will take years, perhaps even decades, to recover from.

It’s good, therefore, to focus on day-to-day—the one thing we can still control somewhat—where we will need to rely on each others’ kindness more than ever. Luckily, that’s the one thing that seems to be plentiful supply.

This seems to be particularly true of independent booksellers. Many are set to either close temporarily or significantly reduce their trading hours over the coming weeks—prompting them to devise inventive ways of getting books out to their self-isolating or socially-distant customers. Alison Flood in The Guardian posted a heartening round-up here.

Our friends Burley Fisher are front and centre, with their offer of Twitter-based recommendations and free bicycle delivery in London’s borough of Hackney (which ain’t that small…); the LGBTQIA+ bookshop Category Is Books in Glasgow will be undertaking delivery via skateboard where possible. Many other shops, despite the closure of their physical stores, will continue with online or telephone orders for as long as the crisis continues. Today the Twitter account @IndieBookshopsUK began a nationwide database of stores which will be updated in the coming days.

Indies, booksellers, and small presses—many of which operate on a shoestring already—are all going to struggle in the near future. We need to support them, as much as we need the books they provide for us—forms of information, entertainment, stimulation and solace – as we prepare face whatever is coming next. Not to get all corny with you all, but books really can bring people together—even as we’re asked to keep apart.



Tom Clayton is publishing executive at Melville House UK.