"I want to have the feeling of the books"
Swedish publishing companies like Bonnier and Norstedts are doing better than ever these days, according to news agency TT. But it's a different story for the nation's bookstores, who have to meet the stiff competition of online vendors and electronic books. As Sweden's brick and mortar bookstores sticker their shelves for the country's annual booksale, which kicks off today, will they be able to pull in readers?
Hedengrens is one of Stockholm's biggest bookstores. It sells Swedish books, but it also specializes in international books, especially ones written in English. For the sale, the store has slashed prices on all of its Swedish books as well as many of its English stock.
Nicklas Björkholm has worked as a bookseller here for almost 30 years. He says that this morning when the bookstore opened its doors at 7 a.m. – three hours earlier than usual to give customers a head start on the sale – some 15 or 20 people were already waiting to come in. By midmorning, a fairly dense crowd are browsing through the shelves and thumbing through books.
Nevertheless, Björkholm says that the book sale has changed over the years. "Ten years ago it was huge," he says, "but now we've slimmed it. The prices nowadays are so low on Swedish books. They sell books everywhere, in petrol stations and grocery stores."
Björkholm says that bookshops like his offer people atmosphere, the feeling of books, and people who know about books. That seems to be true, based on what a number of customers say. "It's more fun to have paper and hold it in your hand than reading online and buying online also," says one young Swedish man.
"I want to have the feeling of the books and be able to read on the back," says another customer, who does not buy books online.
Björkhom says that with regards to English books, so long as his store has them in stock, people often buy them there rather than online. It's faster, he says.
According to Björkholm, e-books are still fairly rare in Sweden, and are therefore not providing much competition yet. "In five years maybe. We're always five years behind the U.S.," he says.
Björkholm admits that the annual book sale is not that important anymore in terms of profits. "We'd probably survive without it nowadays," he says, adding that they keep it because it's fun and attracts new customers.