Remember those adverts for 100 greatest b-sides of 1950s records by people you'd never heard of? You always had to send a cheque to Admail 54 (they were in Plymouth, I think) because "this offer's so good you won't find it in the shops".
That's what being Indie in the book world's all about, isn't it? Doing it all online, getting people to order from Amazon, sticking two fingers up to the whole bicks and mortar and paper establishment.
Well no, it's not. It's about valuing quality over consumerism; about cherishing specialist knowledge; about appreciating a great job, beautifully done. As long as I've been arguing about he future of the literary world, I've been pointing out the business reasons as well as the cultural ones why independent bookshops will increasingly thrive as Borders and B&N flail.
By independent bookshops, I don't mean "a shop just like Borders only smaller and owned by a strange man in cords with a ginger cat for his sales assistant". I mean shops that have a passion for books, a deep knowledge of the literary world, who can act as trusted reading companions for their customers, and probably have at least one area of specialism you just won't find in the mainstream sheds.
I mean shops like The Albion Beatnik in Oxford, buried in Jericho, a part of town so cool you need to take mittens just to walk down the street in summer. The Albion Beatnik sells hyper-hip fiction. But it also devotes half its floor space to books about music and the Beat Poets. And its online arm, Jazzscript, just sells books (including a whole library's worth of novels) about jazz.
It's become really trendy to "support your local bookshop". Authors are always plugging the cause. Great! Well, yes and no. First, I'm not a sentimentalist. I don't really see that "local bookshop" is the right thing to support. Not unless it gives readers that extra something. I'd rather see people supporting independent bookstores, in the sense outlined above. That really is a good cause. It's campaigning to give readers quality.
So it's great that authors support independent bookstores. But come on, guys, you can do a bit better than you are!
If Ian McEwan, for example, insisted that his next book was ONLY stocked in indie bookstores, THAT would be a serious statement. Sure, his sales might be a bit lower. But it would drive money to the Indies. Why not? Because his publisher wouldn't countenance it, of course. You see where I'm going with that.
All of which is by way of announcing that Songs from the Other Side of the Wall, unlike those Admail Classics, IS available in the shops. But you'll only find it in the Indie shops. Easy for a nobody like me to say - that's like a bloke down the pub saying "I'm not going to sell out and play for Manchester United". Well I HOPE if (heaven forfend) I ever get as big as Ian McEwan, I will still only sell my books in Indie stores. There may be a time in between when I sell out - I want toe arn a living. But I don't want to be stinking rich. I'd rather throw all my support behind the Indies and earn a little bit less for me and the mainstreams, thank you.
So far the book's in stock at - you guessed it - The Albion Beatnik (where thers's going to be a big party to celebrate at the end of October). It's also at Jaffe and Neale in Chipping Norton later in the week (Independent Bookstore of the Year in 2008). And next week I'll be checking out Indie stores in London - suggestions welcome.