Sad tidings from Paris. Last week the famed bookstore Librairie Fischbacher closed its doors after having sold art books for more than 100 years. The closure will leave a big hole in the St-Germain des Près quarter. For such a bookstore to close it doors, smack in the middle in one of Europe’s busiest art districts, makes one afraid about the future of specialized book stores.. in Paris only one selling African art books is left: Librairie Mazarine – as for Belgium only Vasco & Co. Books on the Sablon remains.
Much more than a bookstore, places like this are important meeting spots for the African art community. I always joke that Vasco is like a kind of neutral zone, the Switzerland of the Sablon. How many chance meetings and conversations would already have taken place there?
Internet of course is mainly to blame for the decline in bookstores. In 2015, books are just one click away and conveniently delivered at your doorstep. Web stores such as Amazon nonetheless have a disadvantage, as they only have recent publications for sale. Once you start looking for older, out-of-print books, these sites are not very helpful. If you are interested in something particular as African art, real-life independent book stores still have the largest, unrivaled inventory of specialized books. People often complain that many of the old books are expensive (perhaps regretting not having bought them when they came out), but at least they are available and you can freely come browse them to decide if you want to purchase them. There’s a big difference between browsing books in an online store, or browsing the shelves in the actual world..
Speciality booksellers being close to extinction, expanding online and converting to a web-based business model is keeping the last ones alive, but the closure of Fischbacher tells us we’re close to reaching the tipping point. The commerce of selling books is obviously going through a lot of changes, and the only way to respond to them is to go online too. A clever initiative of Vasco & Co. is their frequently send newsletter which brings you up to date of new arrivals and old stock now made available online – do subscribe if you haven’t already. And support your local bookstores – or we’ll only realize how important they are when they are all gone..