Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

New store bridges a book market gap

Opening a bookshop anywhere in the world is a tremendous act of faith and hope. 

Such time-honoured repositories of highbrow literary delights and three-for-two retail specials for thrillers, romances and a host of other genres have struggled ever since Amazon launched its Kindle e-reader. 

That menace proved no phantom and was followed closely by other virtual-reading devices so that books in the traditional codex form pioneered by Gutenberg and Caxton steadily lost sales. 

Falling revenues spelt the end of many independent bookshops, and even mighty chains such as Waterstones in the United Kingdom and Barnes & Noble in the United States battled the invisible rival that took up no space on shelves at home or in holiday-reading luggage. 

But the physical bookstore seems set for a comeback. There is movement locally too, in downtown Jo’burg to be precise, at 85 Commissioner Street, where a piece of optimism and belief is rising under the name of Bridge Books.

Griffin Shea says he got into Johannesburg’s book-vending circles after going into a panic that a book he was working on would never reach its audience. 

Setting out to do some market research, Shea, a former journalist for Agence France-Presse, discovered a variety of vendors ranging from stall operations to storefronts. 

After getting to know some of the the vendors, Shea is acting as a gobetween, to alleviate issues related to the size and profile of some of these operations. 

Bridge Books, which will open on June 1 at 85 Commissioner Street, will act as a wholesaler, and offer new and second-hand books as well as an online ordering service. 

The building, known as City Central, was the old Barclays Bank headquarters and will be used as a space for launches and other literature-related events. 

Shea says booksellers and publishers such as Jacana, New Africa Books and others have offered invaluable support in terms of marketing, brainstorming and access to books. 

Since “stumbling into” the idea of setting up the shop, Shea says he has realised how much demand there is for books, especially for African literature titles, many of which are out of print and are prized finds in secondhand markets. 

Shea is not alone in finding out that demand for books remains incongruent to the channels of supply. After spearheading the e-reader, Amazon recently opened Amazon Books in Seattle’s University Village, its first physical bookstore in a 20-year run of selling on the internet. 

What this suggests is that the internet is not the replacement for the physical form that it has long been touted to be. In South Africa, for example, the success of a bookstore, particularly one focused on African literature, has more to do with how it complements the community it trades in.

For more information on Bridge Books, visit bridgebooks.co.za

Subscribe to the M&G

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and receive a 40% discount on our annual rate..

Darryl Accone
Darryl Accone has been in journalism for the best part of four decades. He is also a Fellow of the Salzburg Seminar and the International Writers Workshop of Hong Kong Baptist University and the author of ‘All Under Heaven: The Story of a Chinese Family in South Africa’ and ‘Euripides Must Die’.
Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo is the editor of Friday, the arts and culture section of the Mail and Guardian.

Related stories

Advertising

Subscribers only

Seven years’ radio silence for taxpayer-funded Rhythm FM

Almost R50-million of taxpayers’ money has been invested but the station is yet to broadcast a single show

Q&A Sessions: Zanele Mbuyisa — For the love of people-centred...

She’s worked on one of the biggest class-action cases in South Africa and she’s taken on Uber: Zanele Mbuyisa speaks to Athandiwe Saba about advocating for the underrepresented, getting ‘old’ and transformation in the law fraternity

More top stories

Landmark Deadly Air case: 10 000 deaths annually can be...

There is no legal mechanism in place to implement and enforce measures to prevent toxic air pollution in the Highveld

No masks. No Covid. But problems do abound

With no cases of Covid-19, a Zimbabwe informal settlement’s residents are more concerned about making ends meet – and their imminent eviction

Cameroon’s democratic repositioning: Is the republic now a de facto...

Franck Biya, a Cameroonian businessman is also the son of President Paul Biya. Does this mean he will be president, too?

Zuma trial postponed to 26 May as defence objects to...

Judge Piet Koen orders a brief delay to give Zuma’s lawyer time to enter a plea that Downer has no authority to prosecute the matter
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×