Lost in Fiction
By the book
Kirstin Innes meets the owner of Lost in Fiction, a new independent bookshop taking on the big chains, and winning
It’s been eight years since the much-missed John Smith’s bookshop on Byres Road closed its doors and turned into a branch of Starbucks. At the time, many residents of Glasgow’s West End saw it as another, depressing, sign of the times. John Smith’s passing, however, left a distinct void in the area.
‘If I had a pound for every time someone’s come in and said, “this is what the West End was needing”,’ says Eileen Russell, who opened her new bookshop, the charmingly-named Lost in Fiction on Byres Road in October. ‘Local residents seem to feel it’s been long overdue, having a bookshop on their doorsteps. A lot of people come in and talk about John Smith’s, you know, and that closed in 2000! It’s a long time, to be without a local bookshop.’
Globalisation and the Internet have not been kind to independent shops. Boosted by the High Fidelity-esque devotion of their customers, independent record shops still seem to be clinging on – look at the dogged survival of Avalanche Records. Bookshops, however, have long been unable to compete with in-house Starbucks, two-for-one-offers or price-slashing. Despite this stiff competition, Russell is confident in what Lost in Fiction can offer.
‘When you go into Borders or Waterstone’s, you’re bombarded with what the publishers want you to buy. We’ve started out with a fairly mainstream selection of books, but we hope to diversify out into quirkier titles, local interest titles, and even in four weeks, our best seller list is looking completely different from the chains.’
‘People go to Amazon if they want to buy cheap books, but what we offer is a totally different book-buying experience. You can come in and browse, you can touch the books, feel them, flick through them, talk to the staff about them. Besides, Amazon’s not that cheap by the time you’ve added your delivery costs.’
With its stylish interior, personalised service (they claim to be able to order almost any book within two days) and plans for an in-house book group studying the West End’s famous array of local authors – many of whom have already requested to read from their books at one of Russell’s evening events – Lost in Fiction has been cleverly tailored to the local customer base. Despite having been open for just over a month, Russell and her staff are already bolstered by the support of the community.
‘To be honest I’ve been completely overwhelmed by the public reaction. We all assumed there would be a slow start, but we’re getting regular customers, even over the short period of time we’ve been open – it’s lovely to see people coming back in again, using their loyalty cards. People are ordering books, coming in and chatting about what they’ve last read and suggesting what we should be stocking to us. This is their local book shop. Already.’
Lost in Fiction, 114 Byres Road, Glasgow, 0141 337 3075, www.lostinfiction.co.uk