Sofas, internet, coffee, concerts... oh, and some books

The Future of Books; Waterstone's are opening their largest ever bookshop today in Glasgow's Sauchiehall Street.
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Waterstone's first opened its doors just 15 years ago, bit its tasteful gold and black logo now marks the country's best known bookseller. In its latest venture in Glasgow - a hi-tech, warehouse sized emporium with 350,000 books on the shelves and 28,000 sq ft of retail space - Waterstone's is using the American approach to selling where size is paramount and lavish surroundings are expected.

Along with an impressive stock level there is a custom built in-house computer system to guide customers to the exact location of the books they are looking for; 11 CD listening posts featuring excerpts from bestsellers; internet facilities; a basement cafe and a mobile coffee cart so you can sip while you browse. The basement is decked out with state-of-the-art audio equipment for author events and musical recitals.

One of the most impressive features is the extravagant sense of space which pervades the shop. Plump, multi-coloured sofas and chairs are set in the centre of each floor, while dark wooden bookshelves line the wall.

While it was only ever a matter of time before consumer design and technology came crashing into bookshops, one can't help feel a small pang for the old days, when a one-man- band of encyclopaedic knowledge and a love of literature would guide you towards making that special purchase. Although the Glasgow store will certainly make things easy, it will also take those delightful idiosyncrasies out of book buying.

But those working in the bookselling trade think that independent stores are still holding their corner of the market.

As The Independent's literary editor Boyd Tonkin explains: "We have not seen a demise in independent shops because the big stores are mainly interested in prime sites in big towns or on campus which leave room in less-well developed areas for smaller booksellers."

According to one industry spokesman: "Independent book shops are not going to be affected by this kind of store. Smaller booksellers are moving into specialist markets and providing a very different, more personal service than you would get from a larger store.

"Certainly the independents are not about to close. The main threat comes from the supermarkets which knock down the prices on bestsellers, but even they won't replace the specialist bookseller."

Veteran bookseller Sonia Benster has run The Children's Bookshop in Huddersfield, with her husband Barry, for the last 23 years. "The idea of a one-stop, well-stocked bookshop is not new. They have been doing it for years in the States and of course they're OK as long as the computer doesn't break down," she said.

"But they are a far cry from the independent bookseller who loves and reads his books. That's the real difference. Smaller shops can really advise people on what is within the covers.

"Being a specialist bookshop has worked for us and I think that there might be a trend among smaller retailers towards specialism. Even general booksellers can identify a market niche."

Back at today's opening, MP cum bonk-buster novelist Edwina Currie and current literary favourites Iain Banks and Nick Hornby will be at the new store along with Glasgow-based band Teenage Fanclub who will open the champagne and cake celebration at noon.

Waterstone's, 153-7 Sauchiehall St, Glasgow. Call 0141-332 9105 for details

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