Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Resource Focus: Housmans

Usually when I write a resource focus post, it's to highlight a charity, video or website resource that I think is likely to be if interest/use to readers of this blog. Today, I'm going to point you to a slightly different resource but a no less important one. Books; or rather one bookseller: Housmans. As book shops go, this one has radical pedigree. The store originally opened up in Kings Cross, London back in 1945. They were radical then and remain so describing their mission as: 'Whilst acknowledging its roots in the peace movement - and, specifically, in the radical pacifist end of the movement - [we aim] to be a broad-based, non-sectarian shop, encouraging the dissemination of a wide range of progressive and alternative ideas. As the shop's founders recognised, opposing injustice and oppression and the degradation of our planet are prerequisites of a more peaceful society.'

All small booksellers are under threat. Borders hit many hard in the 1990s before itself going bust last year. Waterstones has become more about coffee and best sellers rather than books (the Manchester store continues to be a bit on exception but even that isn't what it was) and all the while, the little bookstores struggle to compete with the ready stock and prices of Amazon. Housmans is unusual, even among this small band of remaining small bookstores. It's radical mission means it continues to sell pamphlets and booklets (primarily reflecting a politics of the left) and important books. They are now taking on Amazon with an online store.

In the best traditions of Housmans, they are also taking an ethical focus, highlighting the work practices at Amazon. In a press release, co-manager, Nik Gorecki commented:“Many of our most politically conscious colleagues use Amazon, and when asked why, it’s because they know of no alternative. But now, wherever they live, people will be able to support independent and progressive book selling from the comfort of their own home. I think it’s essential that we are able to provide an alternative to help dent Amazon’s monopoly, it’s up to sympathetic book buyers to do the right thing, and buy their books elsewhere.”

I don't expect you all to give up shopping on Amazon. If I'm honest, I won't be giving up on Amazon either (sorry Housmans). I have bought quite a few second hand books through the Amazon marketplace recently - supporting many small booksellers around the country. Yet, we need booksellers like Housmans and that means spending money in their store. We need these temples of intellectual thought, debate and radicalism. So, take a look at their online store. They have a section on 'Gender Studies' which then gives options for sexuality, feminism, men's studies and discrimination - a great selection of books. If you want these stores to remain, then consider adding them to your buying mix. Even better, if you're travelling through Kings Cross, call in. I'll be paying a visit this weekend.

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