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Dark Puss

So glad you had such a rewarding experience in Blackwell's. Like a number of "presitgious" book shops (Folyles springs to mind) I fear that my impressions have become less rosy over the years. Probably that's just grumpy cat speaking, but if I look back at what Blackwells, Foyles, Heffers (and the lost lamented Dillons and Lewis's) were like 20 (or even 10) years ago I'm sorry to see the significant decline in the breadth of the stock in many, if not all, areas.


While I was browsing downstairs, Mr. C. went up to the History department and came back some time later (purchase in hand) raving about it. As he is very familiar with the shop from his student days, that is a good sign.

Dark Puss

Good! I'm only familar with it from around 1982 onwards. In those days (in science) it wasn't really a competitor for Lewis's in London, but then who was?. More recently Foyles had remained excellent in such areas but has recently (last 5 years) lost a huge amount of stock from its shelves. Recent (2010-2013) visits to Blackwell's have not reassured me overmuch that it isn't in slow decline too. I should say that on those visits I was also looking for books in areas such as modern literature, music and a number of other "arts" as well as books on science and computing. I have no expertise in history so I cannot comment and of course "Mr C" most certainly knows far more than I do! I wonder what other long term users of Blackwell's think?


Even the largest bookshop cannot be all things to all men. They were well-supplied in one area of my interest - and vexingly, as I said, I didn't get back later as intended to do my buying - but I was also looking for the back catalogue of certain well-known authors and found, reasonably enough I suppose, under-representation there while space was given to their latest works (which I'd read). One can't have everything, but I did enjoy my browse.

Dark Puss

Indeed it can't be all things, my sadness is that it is becoming fewer things. I am very pleased you both had such a rewarding experience - long may that be the case!


Blackwells in Oxford is one of my absolute favourite bookshops. So glad you are posting about it. I love the section devoted to Oxford writers, too. Must pick up a new Dorothy L Sayers on my next visit!


Gaudy Night was beckoning!

Dark Puss

Nicola, good to hear that, like Cornflower, you also think Blackwell's is still fantastic.


The next time I'm in Oxford - and hopefully that will be fairly soon - I am going to set aside proper browsing/buying time! Also, having done their Inklings tour, I'd now like to do the Literary Oxford tour - for instance, I'd forgotten that Dorothy L. Sayers was at one time Basil Blackwell's editorial assistant (and BB's office can be visited at certain times of the year).

Dark Puss

Have fun!! P x


Not sure on the etiquette here but I'll jump in. As the Academic manager of Blackwell's can I say thanks for the lovely comments and I fully understands some of the concerns. There is no doubt that there has been enormous change over the past 20 years and some expedient decisions have had to be made. Our commitment, indeed our passion, is to offer the widest selection of books in all areas. As the effect of Amazon and e-books settles down we are very confident that a large, stockholding bookshop remains viable and relevant. We have been selling books from the shop for 134 years, and the plan is to carry on doing so for years to come. Euan
PS Dorothy L Sayers used to work in the shop as Basil Blackwell's assistant :)


Delighted to have your comment, Euan, and to see you use the word 'passion' - as a booklover, that's what I want from a bookseller!
I happened to ask Peter, our lovely Inklings guide, about Basil Blackwell's office being open to visitors from time to time, and he mentioned the DLS connection which I'd forgotten. I see from Barbara Reynolds' biography that eventually the nature of her work for BB "did not call for her literary talents", and he said later that she had seemed to him "like a racehorse harnessed to a plough".

A Former Employee

I would also like to support, and add to, what has been said by Euan from Blackwell's.

Having worked at Blackwell's a couple of years ago, and being involved in the buying process. I can assure people such as Dark Puss that every effort is made to maintain the range of stock.

Much of the perceived lack of range is actually cosmetic [in that the range is there, just not the quantities]. Blackwell's buying staff will stock at least one copy of any academic book published by any of the quality publishers [OUP, Cambridge, Harvard, Yale, Wiley-Blackwell, Elsevier...etc.] Any book that sells will then be re-ordered.

The reduction in the quantity of the same book on the shelves is due to two main reasons.

1. Better communications between suppliers and bookshops. The turnaround time involved in reordering books is now much quicker, so you don't need to have six copies of the same book sitting on the shelf to supply the market for a few months.

2. The perceived notion that Amazon is cheaper. Not as many copies are held of some texts as students and academics buy from Amazon, which lowers the amount needed on the shelves. In many cases, Amazon is not actually cheaper.

Blackwell's is an amazing place and will continue to be so, as long as people who love books support it.

[/slight rant over]


This is so interesting to hear, and thank you for taking the trouble to post.
How bookshops 'work' (stock selection, ordering, and so on, as you've touched on here), and particularly how they do so in these challenging times, is something I find fascinating so I'm glad to learn a little more about it from you.
Long may Blackwell's and others be there for those of us for whom such places are heaven!

Dark Puss

Hi and many thanks indeed for your comments. I make every effort to buy books from "real shops" (and indeed a lot of other products) and am very keen indeed to support specialists such as your former employer. I (an academic physicist) would never be buying from Amazon if Lewis's, Dillons or the "old" Foyles still existed. The last time I was at Blackwell's I did indeed buy a book (high speed optoelectronics). I'm absolutely not critical of Blackwell's and am fully aware that they have to make money. I will indeed endeavour to support it, I do visit it nearly every time I go to Oxford, but I am also concerned that every time I go I see slightly fewer books in (some) of the areas I have an academic and personal interest in.

Dark Puss

Dear Euan, please also see my comment further down to "Former Employee". I can assure you that I will always try to buy a book from a real shop such as Blackwell's and that an on-line only retailer is close to useless in many of the areas I wish to purchase academic books in as I need to compare and contrast between many similar titles in physics and electronic engineering. I wonder if there might be some way in which you (and the few other shops in the UK with whom you might be compared) might be able to provide some virtual browsing which would at least encourage me in and also mean that your physical stock levels would not have to increase nor include texts that rarely sell and, in many academic disciplines, go out of date rather rapidly. If I could browse then order and have a fairly rapid (three working days) delivery to my University then that would be a pretty good way to operate from my perspective! Thank you very much for commenting on Cornflower.

Mr Cornflower

When I opened an account at Blackwells in Oxford in 1978 as a fresh undergraduate, I was entranced by the shop and in particular the Norrington Room - a "cavern measureless to man". I am not a practising academic, but on this brief visit I found a wider selection in the history section than I would expect to find in any other bookshop, and Euan's comments about how the shop has had to adapt to the huge changes of the past 20 years were well made. However I have not been popping in regularly over that period so do not know how far DP's experience would have been mine.


Dark Puss - I truly value your comments. The hard sciences are undoubtedly one of the most challenging areas of the shop to maintain and improve the quality and range of stock. Partly due to the rarity of us being able to employ a bookseller with a proper academic grounding in the subject, partly because of the nature of the subject and the relationship of the physical book - very different to the Humanities for instance. I am much more relaxed about the quality of our Classics or Philosophy section than I am of our Physics or Maths (which is why I did not take any exception to your previous comments - you're right!) Te silver lining is that publishers are more supportive of us than ever and I promise to do some concerted work in the Sciences. We have just launched an online shop page where the content will be completely controlled by the shop buyers. It is very new and nothing like what it will become - we plan to have every shop department represented so worth keeping an eye on. The beauty for us is that if you buy books online having entered through this url then the sale is allocated to the physical shop. We really want to get to the position where you are as wowed by the stock selection in your subjects of interest as Mr Cornflower is with his! Euan


Cambridge bookshops are like a fly in amber for me--remembered from my graduate student and early married years, way back in the 60s. Now I am swamped by a wave of nostalgia for David's stores and the bookstall in the market and Heffers and Bowes and Bowes--where I worked for short while before the birth of my first child. Even for Galloway and Porter--not a favorite. Apart from a handful of visits, Blackwell's has always been a postal relationship, not as satisfactory. Graham Cameron of David's, and his wife Betty, long gone, became close personal friends of ours--an entry into the book world as a whole--long before the internet and blogging arrived.

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