Reading, like most things that are beneficial to us, takes both time and effort. There are significant opportunity costs to reading a particular book, but how does one choose? Especially with all the new books coming into print week after week, to say nothing of the books that have been in print for decades, even centuries. To make a decision on what to read, we take cues from things around us: reviews, book clubs, articles. Eventually we decide to commit time and effort on a book.
Or we can step into a bookshop where booksellers have combed through all the new releases and selected what they consider worthy (and deserving) of attention. Yes, there are digital alternatives that rely on algorithm to suggest the book you will most likely enjoy, but these algorithm more often than not work by narrowing horizons.
Just like how spellcheck cannot replace the discerning eye and sensibility of an experienced editor, it is a mistake to believe that algorithm can replace curation.
Bookshops also catalyse the discovery of books that are new to us, for sometimes we need to learn new things, to delve into a topic or subject we had not considered before. And these discoveries of books we did not know existed (the unknown unknown) are often made serendipitously along the shelves of bookshops.
Just as Richard Ovenden argues in Burning the Books: A History of Knowledge Under Attack on the persistent importance of physical public libraries especially in our ‘digital’ age, we believe that physical bookshops are critical to the future of community.