This course examines the characteristics of bookshops and bookselling in Britain and beyond from the earliest years of the printed book to the digital present. According to the publisher Stanley Unwin, ‘the most difficult task of all that a mortal man can embark on is to sell a book.’ Bookselling remains a precarious business, and the death of the bookshop is a common cry in the age of Amazon. Bookshops nonetheless survive and even thrive in the twenty-first century. Taking an historical approach, the main focus of the course will be on the eighteenth century onwards when books became cheaper and more accessible. The practices and strategies developed by booksellers to take advantage of changing commercial conditions will be emphasised along with the challenges imposed by regulation, taxation, and legislation. Students will also have the opportunity to explore the bookselling environment of the present day, through visits to bookshops in the local area.
Taught by expert tutors and drawing on historic sources, the course combines cultural, social, geographical and economic analysis to explore the distinctive characteristics of bookselling and understand what makes the business of selling books a perhaps uniquely adaptable and resilient commercial activity.