5.3.2: 1910 - heden - The bookshop, its organisation and function

The interior of a bookshop in the 1920s usually had an aisle in the middle for the public, with counters stacked with books to the left and right. The shop assistants stood behind the counters and there were bookcases all along the walls. The breakthrough of the paperback in the fifties transformed the bookshop from a more or less closed house or shop-with-counter for a select public into an accessible showroom, in which anybody could browse, nobody felt they had to buy something and customers were attended to and informed in a friendly manner. The bookshop evolved from a dark, distinguished-looking panelled shop with books and stationery into a light walk-in shop. The bookshop's appearance was now determined by racks on the counter, book cases and revolving paperback stands, later to become paperback walls, with overlapping books. Some bookshops even set up paperback basements, to accommodate the many paperback series which were preferably presented in sequence.

From the sixties onwards, hardly any books were to be found behind the counter, which had traditionally created a distance between buyer and seller. Potential buyers could now pick up the books freely and have a seat to look at them. The closed shop windows made way for semi-open and open shop windows (i.e. without a back wall), so that customers could see into the shop from the street. Placing book stands outside the shops also contributed to the more open nature of the bookshops.

The systematic (and then alphabetic) ordering of the books in the cases along the walls was maintained. The shop windows, the counter and the table were different; they presented the current titles, mainly flat (in stacks). Separate departments were created, for instance for children's books and in the larger bookshops, divided over the different floors and levels, architect-designers were increasingly employed to create specialist departments (sales islands). In the stationer's shops, books and stationery were still kept strictly separate from each other.

The change in the interior also reflected the changing function of the bookseller. The overkill of paperbacks and the ensuing changes made to the shops caused this 'torchbearer of culture', cultural intermediary and guardian of high morals to feel frustrated in his educational and informative role. From being a sound guide for his clientele he was gradually being degraded to operating the cash register and ordering books. The range of magazines and newspapers for single issue sales increased and subscriptions were no longer distributed through the bookshops, but delivered directly to the subscriber by post or by the 'bladenman'. From the seventies onwards, the bookshop increasingly became a place where authors could meet their public (lectures, signing sessions). In the nineties some larger bookshops set up reading corners, sometimes also selling food and beverages, where customers could read the books and then return them to the shelves.

Key terms were 'routing', 'fun shopping', impulsive buying and transparency, with, as a result of the increased openness, more and more bookshops having to install detection systems to prevent 'criminal leakage' (shoplifting).

author: B.P.M. Dongelmans

The bookshop, its organisation and function