Image(12)How many bookshops do you think there are in London?

How long do you think they’ll last?

Those are the questions that have been on my mind for the past few weeks. They began when I moved to London two months ago and have been stewing away ever since, mixed with troubling reports from the Guardian that the end of books is nigh and the news that The Travel Bookshop in Notting Hill has closed.

Are bookshops going the same way as the record store? Can bookshops hold their weight against e-books and Amazon? Is it possible that all the lovely bookshops I keep walking past and never quite finding the time to visit will disappear before I get the chance to?

I’ve looked on the internet and found plenty of recommendations for London bookshops and plenty of conjecture about their imminent death but nothing that answered my questions or put my mind at ease. So I have decided to take it upon myself to find out.  The best way to do that?

Visit every* bookshop in London and ask the booksellers myself.

It’s a simple idea and as a new-Londoner and ex-bookseller I’m in a pretty good position to make the most of it. It’s a way for me to see more of London, spend more of my time around books and, perhaps, help the bookshops in some way.

I’m still working on my grand plan and questions seem to arise quicker than I can answer them, a nowhere-near-exhaustive list being:

What counts as a bookshop? (Not sure)   What counts as London? (Zones 1-3)   Will booksellers want to talk to me? (Hopefully!)   Will I have to visit the naughty bookshops of Soho? (Yes…)   Will I embarrass myself in some uber-cool comic bookshop? (Probably)   Does Waterstone’s count? (As an ex-W’stones, I think they may have to!)   Will I have to visit those super intimidating posh ones near St James’ Park? (Yes)

I’ll be posting again in the next few days with a more concrete plan, so if you want to know more about the project you should follow me on twitter for updates (@1BookontheShelf).  If you’d like to get in touch with me about the project you can email me at onebookontheshelf (at)

This post was Freshly Pressed on 6th October; if you are interested in the progress of The London Bookshop project, check here to read about the bookshops I’ve visited so far.

*There will be caveats to this- I don’t want to spend my weeks in Scientology bookshops or visiting every branch of The Works. Not only would this make the blog rather dull but I am also a bit of a book snob (probably best to get that out in the open now!).


136 thoughts on “

    • I’ll definitely be visiting the market under Waterloo Bridge! I don’t think I’ll seek out every bookstall in London, mainly because it will be impossible, but if I get a suggestion or stumble across one I think it will be my duty to write about it!!

  1. Sounds like the best way to get to know a new city – have fun! There is a market stall down Brick Lane on Sundays that I’m very fond of – I’m sure the guy who runs it would be happy to share his thoughts if you’re interested…

  2. I’m studying abroad in London next year and one of the things I’m looking forward to the most are all the lovely bookshops I’ve heard about there. I can’t wait to hear more about your bookshop adventures : )

  3. I love that you’re doing this! Going to authentic book shops (you know, the ones that specialize in selling books, not coffee, gifts, and cards) is one of my favourite things to do!

    Good luck on hitting all of them and congrats on being Freshly Pressed! 🙂

  4. This is great. I’m excited to follow your adventure. I’m especially interested since there have been so many posts lately about the indie bookstore dying. I’d like to know if this is true and if bookstores really can survive in today’s world.

  5. As a former Borders employee (1997-2004), I am still in mourning for my favorite book store chain. The store managers at each location made it our business to know about the small shops in town, what their niche was and when/why we would send our customers there . . . I miss being on top of the book shop scene, but am disabled with mobility problems now. Anyhow, I’ll look forward to this series and live the thrill vicariously!
    And, perhaps I’ll try to check out mor e of the bookshops here in Tucson . . .

    Meantime, Rock on!

  6. Hopefully you’ll find another 84 Charing Cross Road. Even the good independant, Foyles became a megastore years ago. There is a great second hand place, Malden Books in Camden, everything crammed in so you have no choice but to browse. ANother favourite is a charity shop on Archway Road, HIghgate, only as they have two shopfronts and one is devoted to books and they have everything departmentalised like a bookstore.

  7. Sounds like a super interesting and fun experience to take on – good luck and looking forward to reading how it turns out! And I certainly hope that all those bookshops we love so much (no matter where in the world) can hold out against all those e-books, because they are wonderful places. You might like a blog entry I wrote on books (I’m a huge book and bookshop lover):

    Congratulations on being freshly pressed and I hope your ‘expedition’ goes well!

  8. This is definitely no joke. I am completing my librarianship studies now and from all existing bookstores in 2010, half of them are expected to be gone by 2014. Actual book sales and reading are probably higher now than they have ever been, particularly in the UK, but they do involve the Middleman anymore.

    We all have to actively look at the money we have and see each dollar or pound as having a mission. It has to bounce through as many hands as possible, and as near to you as possible. It’s my understanding that Brixton yuppies are aggressively working on this.

    This is just a random thought, but I think since most people are not really in a position to be buying anything discretionary now, bookstores ought to sell memberships for a nominal fee (perhaps £5 per month) in order to maintain a sumptuous atmosphere and people can support the store but not feel obliged to have to buy something each time.

  9. my wife knows whenever I go into a bookshop she can safely leave me there for hours….and one of my all time favourites…anywhere is Stanfords on Long Acre, if that ever closed it would be a very sad day….go there, buy a book and then go read it drinking the best coffee anywhere in London at the Monmouth Coffee House….Good luck in your quest!!!

  10. I don’t care how ‘convenient’ e-books are. I don’t even care how much audio books can be wonderful when I just need to shut my eyes, but really want to do some ‘reading’. There’s nothing like settling down in a comfy chair with a comfy blanket reading a comfy (or otherwise) book. I might not get to as many bookstores and I want. I may not have the money to buy all the books I want, but I would sure miss them if they disappeared :(.

  11. Even with e-readers, most people love the idea of holding a book in their hands and having the sensual experience of turning each page and reading its surprises.

    Checking out the bookshops in towns we visit is a favorite outing for us, and I wish you many wonderful discoveries on your quest.


  12. It’s a beautiful idea. I love the way you’re tying the printed word to specific places and people. Books, words and ideas mean something different in different contexts…something we’re in danger of forgetting with ebooks. I look forward to your journey unfolding!

  13. Im in the middle of fighting a battle of wills with myself to not buy a Kindle or something of the same idea. I am a gadget freak usually, I love my ipod and my phone and my laptop but this one I will not give in to. There is NOTHING like the feel of a book tucked under your armpit or the smell of a brand new book straight from the bookshop! I will not give in I promise and to encourage myself even more I will continue to read this blog. Sounds like a brilliant idea! Good luck!

  14. What a truly brilliant idea and something that is a very real issue. Our high streets are becoming more and more boring and generic, with only the internet selling specialist items these days. Whilst many people love it, the Kindle is not exactly a friend of people who truly love books either. Good luck and I can’t wait for your updates!b

  15. FOYLES! Best bookshop in London 🙂 Also the Waterstones in Piccadilly is amazing, we have our NaNoWriMo write-ins there, so even if it goes bust books-wise, the cafe is full of weirdos with laptops throughout the month of November.

  16. There is something about walking into a bookstore, sitting down, grabbing an old volume and opening it up to feel the crisp unique scent of book waft over you.
    Sorry, I am a book smeller. Just one of the many reasons to love bookstores. I appreciate any effort to preserve them. Good luck!

  17. Have you checked out the inscription project? It’s where people send in photos of book inscriptions from all over the world – I think you’ll like it! Good luck 🙂

  18. What a great idea! As fellow booksellers, we completely understand the urge to visit other stores. Anytime one of us is on vacation, we always come back to tell each other about “this fabulous bookstore in…”

    Good luck! We’ll be following along with interest.

  19. I love the antique bookshops of York. The bookshops there seem to take you to some mystical land of long ago….I have spent countless hours browsing there, and one just get completely get lost in time! Wishing you all the best in your endeavors. Smiles and Cheers!

  20. I’m so eager to hear your findings! I am deeply in love with second hand books and quite frankly, can’t imagine a world without the dingy, mold scented, silverfish fighting stores I regularly loose two hours of my saturdays in (always emerging with fine treasures however). What are your thoughts on these second hand stores? Will they survive?

  21. This is quite an interesting idea. I’m signing up to follow your adventures through the London bookshops. Will you also be taking photos of the bookshops (I hope)?

  22. I’m excited to read more! Bookshops are some of the greatest places on earth… For me, stepping into a bookshop is like a kid walking into Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium. So many adventures, and so many places your imagination can take you. I hope people like us can help keep these stores alive. The world would be a very dull place without them.

  23. As an avid reader/ex-Londoner, I suggest you buy a copy of Lesley Reader’s excellent guide to the bookshops of London -‘Book Lovers’ London’. Available in all good bookshops! My edition is paperback, 2003, 320 pgs and very comprehensive although in the 8ys since publication there have been closures, but some new bookshops have sprung up too. There is also a very recent map of London which marks independent bookshops in the centre of the city which was produced as part of the London Art Fair this year, and can be purchased at large bookshops such as Daunts, Waterstones etc. Hope this info is of use!

  24. According to Umberto Eco, the book is like the wheel – a technology robust, resilient and beyond improvement. Time will tell, although it has survived 500 years or so – and certainly proved better than the flash in the pan technologies (like Compact Discs for example).

    Anyway, what an admirable and enviable adventure. The only problem being – storage. If you are like me walking into a bookshop means walking out with an extra couple of spaces needed on the shelves.

    I look forward to following this adventure.

  25. I approached the same idea when I lived in London, except with Pubs. Legions of them were under threat of closure or, even worse, becoming swanky foody pubs (which are not pubs). I, of course, felt it my duty to visit them all before they disappeared so the principle is the same. Still got all the notes so there might be a book in there somewhere but, alas, by the time it be published, no bookstores to shelf it!

    A virtual bookstore is as much fun as a virtual pub. Anyway, good luck with it mate and all the best!

  26. You must visit a bookstore in Balham called My Back Pages. It is just outside the tube station, opposite it actually. They sell current and antiquarian books at internet prices to keep up. YOu must visit them, a charming place.

  27. I can’t help but remember the whole big book store Vs small book store in the movie “You’ve Got Mail” with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. But this is a different issue; bookstore Vs e-bookstore.

    Although I love and appreciate ebooks, I sometimes worry about the books sold in physical book stores. Somehow, I don’t think they should disappear. They’re too important. If they disappear, it’ll be a great lost that we’d have to regain.

  28. I don’t know of anyone said anything about it yet, but there is that old, supposedly haunted one in Berkeley Square that I used to go to all the time when I lived in London! I forget the name of it, but I hope you get to find it and I REALLY hope it is still open!

  29. What a fab idea! Looking forward to reading about them… Don’t forget the language bookshops, like Grant and Cutler and the European Bookshop, and the French ones in South Ken! (where I once met Juliette Binoche…!)

  30. I was a London bookseller myself (Hatchards – the ‘old’ Hatchards – and the rest) and don’t begin to think of being intimidated by those arty bookshops around St James’s. They sometimes like to think they’re superior, but they’re hanging by a thread and are much, much more approachable than they used to be!

    What about museum and gallery bookshops? Some are as good as any specialist, even better, and they’re also – generally – indepedents…

  31. As old city of civilization, books means a lot to its development. Now people may read less than before due to ebooks and internet. Bookstores should be part of a city.

  32. Funny you should write about this… I have been to London 3 times, the last 2 – on a 8hr stay coming back from HK – I have always made a note of visiting my favorite Waterstone´s book store, near Picadilly.

    It has became sort of a “must do” activity when I think of it. I am myself wondering if it will be there on my next visit!!

  33. What a cool project! In the U.S., there’s been a recent increase in the number of independent bookstores. I don’t know if that trend is happening over in London, but I can hope. Have you visited the Lion & Unicorn Bookshop in Richmond on Thames? It’s not in London, so it may not fit in your project. But my family visited the London area a couple of years ago, and my two daughters loved this bookstore (it’s a children’s bookstore, so that also might not fit in your project). Best wishes on your plan to visit the bookstores!

  34. Good luck with your quest. I too share your concern about the demise of the bookshop. It’s another potential victim of the all powerful Internet. However, I feel that buying and reading real books ( rather than electronic screens ) is perhaps more important than just visiting the shops. Having said that, maybe you could take pictures of them, inside and outside, to show future generations how we used to live before the virtual world took us over.

  35. Wow. Very ambitious! I love London’s second hand book shops and I always leave with several books in my luggage!! Good luck and I’ll be back to check in 🙂

  36. London is my favorite city in the world and I would gladly help if I could! I made sure to visit a few bookstores when I was there in April, as I do every city I visit. As someone who just lost the only bookstore within 30 miles of her town (a Borders), I can definitely recognize the importance of having a bookshop in our communities.

  37. This sounds like a great project. Good luck. I don’t think that bookshops will die out, they may decrease in number, but there is something about the smell and feel of a new book that an e-book will never be able to replace. And buying books online is only any good if you already know exactly what you are looking for.

  38. This sounds wonderful. I have recently moved away from London and I am now thoroughly regretting not having done something similar (if on a much smaller scale)! Good luck and happy writing. I look forward to watching the adventure unfold.

  39. Absolutely following. I get terribly worried about all of these ‘plight of the book’ articles, so I’ll be hoping for some good news from the booksellers.

    Failing that, maybe books will go underground? Maybe we’ll be desperately hunting them out? Anyway. Looking forward to following your journey.

  40. Go for it…. I love books and love to browse through the shelves for hours… No tech can replace the feeling of popping eyes searching for long awaited books, cruising through sections, holding a book while lying down in bed at night, flipping the pages unitl reach the final page… I just love’em… I like your idea and I really hope there will always be book stores.

  41. I love both book stores and record stores, and it saddens me that they are disappearing. I used to love to look at books and hang out at smaller book stores, but those days are going…

  42. Good luck! Quite a task you’ve given yourself. I must admit, I personally don’t miss going to brick & mortar bookshops, finding their e-equivalent a more than adequate replacement, esp. now that you can often browse some of the content online to get a feel for what’s actually in the book.

  43. Great idea. Sadly won’t take you as long as it would have a few years ago. My local shop, Prosperos in Crouch End is now an ice-cream parlour. When I moved to London Upper Street had two bookshops, now none. Hope you’re taking in second-hand stores too.

    Good luck.

  44. Most wonderful idea! As a book fan, reader, and writer, I love the book. Feel, smell, look. Can’t yet seem to cosy up to an e-book. This is brilliant, and should be a movement of global proportions. Timely, as I have heard a report out of the province of Newfoundland & Labrador, that a local bookstore (the last) is set to close if no new owner rides in to safe it. Halifax, NS, is on that death list, as a major independent store not long ago fell in the tar like a t-rex..Looking forward to your adventures.

  45. I’m one of many comments here, but your blog caught my eye (yes, on the front page…) and I couldn’t resist! I’ve never been to London, however, my first trip there is coming up in October and I can tell you now that bookshops are on my list of places to go. Now I’m off to stalk (in a non-creepy way) the rest of your blogs so I can find out what you’ve been up to on the book store visiting front!

  46. Sounds like a great idea and I’ll be interested in the progress! When I was in London this past summer we made it a point to visit all the used booksellers on Charing Cross Road.

  47. Looking forward to following this quest. One of my favorite memories of a trip to London several years ago was exploring the antique books in a shop (the name escapes me at the moment). All that history packed on those shelves. Then to find one from 1703 that we could afford! And to top it off, it had been printed a few streets away on Fleet Street.

    Long Live Books!


  48. This is a fabulous idea! There is a great little bookshop in Covent Garden…it is as vintage as Joan Rivers but with far more substance. Good luck! x

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  50. I wish you luck! I’m writitng a book about space dragons and am debating whether or not it should be printed, or stay the same as an ebook periodical. And, if you want, you can read a story I posted from the book about a girl that gives birth to a Dragon!

    I’m starting to lean more towards having the book printed, because the interior of an e-book is so bland, but you can style the headings of a printed book with any font you want!

  51. I’d second the comment about checking out My Back Pages in Balham, it’s a really great bookshop and truly independent, as evidenced by the piles of books all over the floor. Clapham Common is only a few stops along from Balham, so you might want to check out Clapham Books on the High Street, bit less character but still a great selection.

    AND also go to Judd Books in Bloomsbury. Great place. God, I love bookshops.

  52. When you’ve finished with London, why not have a look round Hay on Wye? Not easy to find anything new, but the range of secondhand stuff there for such a small town is breathtaking.

  53. Very cool! I always wanted to do this!

    A couple of months ago I posted about the end of bookstores too. The talk about books in print ending is always in the air, but when Borders (a huge bookstore chain in the US) closed, this talk became even more mainstream.

    I love books and cannot imagine only reading e-books…

    ANYWAY, I look forward to your experience!

  54. Good luck with your quest in visiting every bookshops in London. Its rather hard to find those small old-school bookstores. If you do a top 10 list of best bookstores, I might take the time visiting them. 🙂

  55. Great idea (though sure to cost you a fortune!) We have two great ones in Muswell Hill, the M Hill Bookshop and M Hill Children’s Bookshop which are opposite each other on the Broadway. Have fun!

  56. Pingback: William Tries to Figure Out What This Blog Should Be About | Will Zeman's Wanderings

  57. Wow I’m so jealous of you getting the chance to do this – this is the kind of thing that makes me want to move to London! I’ll definitely be following your progress, good luck! x PS. I too am sulking about not being able to make the Cheltenham Book Fest, it sounds fantastic :,(

  58. Pingback: weekend in 3 (#25) | brand new day

  59. Since my human is an author, an old one at that, so books are a special thing to him. His novels are going onto the big “I” as well as paper, but he still likes the ink version best. He’s gone through two Kindles and has remarked that downloading is less expensive until – one is lost over-board on a shark fishing trip – a second disappears in a MacDonalds while leaving it on the table for enough seconds to get a napkin – then the Kindle AND ALL the books loaded are “Gone with the Wind.” As long as there are old foggies like him, the stores will hold on. The secret is for the stores to offer something you can’t transmit through space. He says he knows, but “ain’t tellin'” – yet.

  60. That sounds like a great project. I’m going to catch up with your progress. You’ve inspired me to have a look in my city and pay a visit.

  61. I definitely like book stores. But, I always found myself treating them like libraries and just sitting there reading a magazine or a few pages from a book without ever buying a book. I wonder why people realize that it’s wrong to take up table space in a restaurant if they aren’t going to order food but are okay with sitting in a bookstore and reading books without buying them. Maybe because there’s no public/free version of restaurants. Would love to hear the responses you get!

    • I have a friend that used to go in and read part of a book, put a bookmark in his place and then stash the books somewhere in shelves so he could pick up where he left of last time. I have to admit that I often skim a magazine and put it back, mostly because for the same money I can buy a book. A book seems like an investment, a magazine seems like a way to kill time.

  62. I really like this idea. While I don’t think the end of printed books is nigh, I do worry for bookstores – particularly ones that sell new books and not used ones. Mostly, I worry because of financial reasons. With a difficult recession still pervading our everyday lives, people are becoming more and more frugal and this is echoed in the increase of book purchases taking place on line, where new books are cheaper than the list price one would have to pay in the bookstore. This, however, may be a good thing for used bookstores who may find more customers. It would be a very sad day indeed if there were no more bookstores to lose yourself in.

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