New store bridges a book market gap

Opening a bookshop anywhere in the world is a tremendous act of faith
and hope. 

Such time-honoured repositories
of highbrow literary delights
and three-for-two retail specials
for thrillers, romances and a host
of other genres have struggled ever
since Amazon launched its Kindle

That menace proved no phantom
and was followed closely by other
virtual-reading devices so that books
in the traditional codex form pioneered
by Gutenberg and Caxton
steadily lost sales. 

Falling revenues spelt the end of
many independent bookshops, and
even mighty chains such as Waterstones
in the United Kingdom and
Barnes & Noble in the United States
battled the invisible rival that took
up no space on shelves at home or in
holiday-reading luggage. 

But the physical bookstore seems
set for a comeback.
There is movement locally too, in
downtown Jo’burg to be precise, at
85 Commissioner Street, where a
piece of optimism and belief is rising under the name of Bridge Books.

Griffin Shea says he got into Johannesburg’s
book-vending circles after
going into a panic that a book he was
working on would never reach its

Setting out to do some market
research, Shea, a former journalist
for Agence France-Presse, discovered
a variety of vendors ranging from
stall operations to storefronts. 

After getting to know some of the
the vendors, Shea is acting as a gobetween,
to alleviate issues related to
the size and profile of some of these

Bridge Books, which will open on
June 1 at 85 Commissioner Street,
will act as a wholesaler, and offer
new and second-hand books as well
as an online ordering service. 

The building, known as City Central,
was the old Barclays Bank headquarters
and will be used as a space
for launches and other literature-related

Shea says booksellers and publishers
such as Jacana, New Africa Books
and others have offered invaluable
support in terms of marketing,
brainstorming and access to books. 

Since “stumbling into” the idea of setting up the shop, Shea says he has realised how much demand there is
for books, especially for African literature
titles, many of which are out of
print and are prized finds in secondhand

Shea is not alone in finding out
that demand for books remains
incongruent to the channels of supply. After spearheading the e-reader, Amazon recently opened Amazon
Books in Seattle’s University Village,
its first physical bookstore
in a 20-year run of selling on the

What this suggests is that the internet
is not the replacement for the
physical form that it has long been touted to be.
In South Africa, for example, the success of a bookstore,
particularly one focused on African
literature, has more to do with how
it complements the community it
trades in.

For more information on Bridge Books, visit



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