Is It Really a Surprise That Indie Bookstores Are Wifi-Free Zones?

14859573403_18539ac6ea_hThe NYTimes brought a "new" trend among indie bookstores to our attention today.

It seems the avant-garde of London indie booksellers have regressed, technologically speaking, to the mid-1990s:

What do literary tourists look for when they visit the British Isles? Often it’s the quaint, old-fashioned bookshops that provide the perfect excuse to browse uninterrupted and to disconnect from the world. Until recently, the trend for barista-made coffee and high-speed Wi-Fi was considered by some in the city’s bookish crowd to be ruining London’s centuries-old tradition of disconnected browsing.

But a crop of bookshops is rebelling against frenzied online engagement and is creating environments where the real-life, internet-free book browse is the most effective way to expand your social and professional networks. And in countering the internet overload, some stores are proving to be among London’s hottest hangouts.

 Leading the rebels is Libreria Books in London’s East End, which is a Wi-Fi- and coffee-free zone. It was opened in February by Rohan Silva, a former policy adviser to the former prime minister David Cameron, and co-founder of Second Home, a members’ club providing a work space for entrepreneurs.

...

Libreria is in the company of Tenderbooks (tenderbooks.co.uk),Buchhandlung Walther König (buchhandlung-walther-koenig.de), Lutyens & Rubinstein, (lutyensrubinstein.co.uk) and Word on the Water (facebook.com/wordonthewater), all independent book shops shunning high-speed cables and lattes. Their mantra has drawn a sophisticated, brainy crowd, but its premise is simple: In the digital age, the bookshop should be a refuge, an information overload in its own right.

When I first read that story this morning I was thrilled that booksellers had found a way to distinguish themselves from the chains and focus on selling books. I was all set to comment on this remarkable trend when something occurred to me.

I have never actually been in a bookstore, an indie bookstore that is, which had free Wifi. I always travel with a mobile device and I make a point of visiting indie bookstores whenever I can, but I've never found one with free Wifi.

Coincidentally, I also can't recall that I have ever seen an indie bookstore with a cafe - aside from a few exceptions like Powell's Books in Portland, OR, and other big box indies.

Am I just not visiting the right bookstores, or is the NY Times inventing a "new" trend which has actually been around for decades?

I clearly haven't visited enough bookstores to answer this question definitively, so I am opening the question for debate. Have you encountered indie bookstores with free Wifi and cafes, and are they really that common?

image by shotbydan

About Nate Hoffelder (11577 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader:"I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

13 Comments on Is It Really a Surprise That Indie Bookstores Are Wifi-Free Zones?

  1. Here in Indianapolis, there’s a bookstore-slash-cafe that just opened, Porter Books & Bread, though it seems to follow the lead of Books’n’Brews in being something else with a bookstore tacked on, rather than the other way around.

  2. Our local bookstore is sort of like that. Once you’ve managed to make it past all the shelves (it is TINY, and the shelves are close together and NEVER bring a backpack in there), you get to a space in the back that is occupied by an old fashioned bar (sans stools) and four booths. The tables are high, the seats are actually old church pews scrounged out of a church before it got renovated, and the wifi is free. I quite going there to work on writing because it is far more likely I’ll end up in a conversation with the owner and the ten other people who have all shown up and crammed themselves in there than it is that I’ll get anything done. But it’s a nice place to go and chat for a while.

    There’s also Title Wave Books in my old town (Anchorage, AK). They sell new and used books, and when they finally escaped the three story monster they were housed in before, they moved into a nearby strip mall, took over a space just as large as Barnes & Noble, stuck a cafe in one corner, and proceeded to do so much business that they’ll probably last LONG after B & N folds. The wifi was free last time I was there, the cafe had converted to a bagel/sandwich shop (makes sense since they didn’t like the books getting coffee on them, on top of the fact that there are two other LARGE coffee shops in the same strip mall.)

    So they exist. 🙂

  3. I haven’t been to either in years, but there are at least two bookstore-cafés in New Haven, Connecticut: Atticus and Book Trader. (Someone who has been to them more recently would have to chime in on the wifi thing though.)

  4. I still yearn for Book Trader scones. Those things were amazing.

    Back on topic, this idea that not offering “Free WiFi” is going to encourage people to “disconnect” is bizarre. Presumably these stores in the middle of London all have cell signal still.

    Free wifi tends to go hand in hand with Cafe’s since it encourages people to sit around and keep buying coffee. That this is a “trend” of some sort seems unlikely.

    [i]You wouldn’t even dare ask for the Wi-Fi code here,” a customer there said recently.[/i]
    For fear you will be looked down upon?

    I’m also struck by the contradictions in the article, claiming [i]”the most effective way to expand your social and professional networks.”[/i] while emphasizing the library-like silence and atmosphere that drives people who get a phone call to leave and go outside. I’ve been in plenty of bookstores like this and human interaction is rare and timid much like it would be in a library. The old Shakespeare and Co. in NYC had a guy who would humiliate and berate people who’s headphones were being played too loud (I watched him do it several times, he would literally yell at them from the sales counter as soon as they walked into the shop).

    I’m not sure why people think shaming and scaring their customers into tip-toeing through their store afraid to make noise is a great way to sell books, but I can attest that it’s certainly not a new trend.

  5. Bookpeople in Austin, TX has free wifi and a café in the store. Probably my favorite Indie bookstore on the planet!

  6. I looked at the websites of the bookstores mentioned. Just goes to show there’s still a massive class divide in the UK. To me they are not selling books but a service to show to your friends just how trendy you are.

  7. Don’t see what the big deal is (from your perspective.) It’s a lifestyle piece in the Travel section, citing five bookstores with supporting quotes involving three of the stores. Obviously it’s a hook for a story (old-fashioned, quiet, library-style vs. more bustling cafe in background) – again, in a lifestyle section, not purporting to be the latest book industry analysis on Whither Independent Bookstores…
    Maybe (very probably) not to everyone’s taste, but great info for NYT readers looking for what’s new.

    As far as bookstore cafes, they’re all over the place, and have been for decades. Baltimore used to have the fabulous Louie’s the Bookstore Cafe on Charles Street, the late lamented Olsson’s chain had a sit down cafe in Old Town Alexandria, Esmerelda’s in La Jolla…Currently in business in the DC area are Politics & Prose, Busboys & Poets, and the old perennial, Kramerbooks and Afterwords, going strong for 40 years. I looked up Trident Books in Boston which I first visited in the 80’s, and looks like they’re still healthy, even expanded not too long ago. Then there’s the Wintergarten im Literaturhaus in Berlin in a gorgeous old villa, the newly re-opened Shakespeare & Co. in NYC (with Espresso book machine), and plenty in London including the London Review Bookshop in Bloomsbury. Most even have (gasp) liquor licenses…

    • Because in the past the NY Times and other major newspapers have reported on a “new” trend which echoed stories on the same trend from seventeen years before. Or they announced a “first of its kind” store opening in the same location where one had opened years before.

      I wanted to find out if the NYTimes was as off as I thought they were. It turns out I was off this time.

    • #undebunked 🙂

      What I can’t get my head around is that the co-founders of the decaffeinated-WiFiLess-bookstore are also the co-founders of the local tech accelerator. It seems like a weird mishmash of preferences/values.

  8. The libraries in our county are all being renovated and many of them are gaining a cafe of sorts–just vending machines, but there are tables and chairs to sit and consume your food and drink. You can’t take books into the cafe (unless they’ve been checked out) and you can’t take food and drink into the stacks, which presumably helps keep the books clean. But there’s free wifi, and one usually sees young people with laptops hanging out there. (They also hang out in the stacks, where there is still wifi, but no coffee.)

    As many have pointed out, if there’s an LTE signal, one can connect to the Internet, at least on one’s smartphone.

    • The libraries in my county are designed by an architect who is in love with putting everthing into open-floor-plan triangular rooms with stone and hardwood walls and ceilings.

      And yes, it is as bad as it sounds.

  9. I have rarely been in an indie bookstore without a cafe recently. Here in Oxford, The Albion Beatnik and The Last Bookstore both have cafes, in the case of the former it is one of the ways of keeping enough money coming in that the books can be kept away from commercial titles. And Chipping Norton’s Jaffe and Neale, multiple times independent bookstore of the year, has always had a cafe. Aside from anything else, a cafe is a hub for events,and events are what keep money coming in and build bridges in all directions between bookshops, readers, the local community, and creatives of all stripes

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