Huntingdon – The Booklovers’ Capital of the UK!

Sorry to break into the bookshop blogs, but sometimes breaking news just has to take precedence!
It’s not often I’m shocked by anything in the Hunts Post. This isn’t a derogatory comment – as I discussed in a blog post many moons ago, it’s rather nice to now live in an area where, some weeks, there just aren’t any knife fights or drug raids to report. But it’s taken some getting used to; I still chuckle at front page stories like ‘new owl chicks at zoo given names’ and page 2 shouting ‘local teen pushed off bicycle!’. My best friend also ’emigrated’ to a rural location at the same time, and has equally dramatic stuff in her local paper – cue much headline swapping hilarity in our letters and phone calls!

But yesterday, when the Hunts Post crashed on to my doormat, I picked it straight up (my day off!) and…
I had to sit down with a frothy coffee to take it in.
Could Huntingdon – my nearest town – really be ‘the book-buying capital of the UK?’ Even though its only book outlets are standard charity shops, a small WHSmith (which now incorporates the post office) and – as of June – an Oxfam bookshop?? I turned in fevered haste (if you’ll forgive the cliche) to page 4…
Well apparently, yes. Or perhaps…not.

The Hunts Post was merely joining the many other newspapers and booktrade websites who had already made much of the fact that, according to Amazon, Huntingdon residents buy more books than any other town.
From them, anyway.

Amazon recently released a top 20 book buyers list of towns and cities (20,000+ residents only). It takes account of traditional publications and Kindle format.

1. Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire
2. Cambridge, Cambridgeshire
3. Sevenoaks, Kent
4. Rochester, Kent
5. Salisbury, Wiltshire
6. Chichester, West Sussex
7. Canterbury, Kent
8. Truro, Cornwall
9. Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
10. Doncaster, South Yorkshire
11. Winchester, Hampshire
12. Godalming, Surrey
13. Spalding, Lincolnshire
14. Warwick, Warwickshire
15. Newton Abbot, Devon
16. Durham, County Durham
17. Whitney, Oxfordshire
18. Oxford, Oxfordshire
19. Tonbridge, Kent
20. York, North Yorkshire

The Hunts Post had dug further down in the data and discovered that Huntingdon is at no.1 in the food & drink category and children’s books, and no.2 in non-fiction and science fiction.
What does that say about my local folk? We predominantly have large well-fed families who dress like Klingons at the weekend?

Huntingdon High Street

Perhaps it just mean that, in an area that’s traditionally tech-savvy and at the forefront of scientific advances, the people I now live amongst do more of their shopping online. Living as they do in the liberal sprinkling of often tiny hamlets and villages that fill the triangle formed by Bedford, Peterborough and Cambridge, perhaps it’s an easier option than having to go to one of those ‘big 3’ to find a decently-sized bookshop (I’m sorry, St.Neots, but your minuscule Waterstones-within-Barratts t’aint a lot of good to man or beast).

I certainly don’t think it means that people in Huntingdon buy more books than people in all the other towns and cities in the UK. Particularly when you consider that Huntingdon only just scraped over the 20,000 residents mark this year. Quite hilariously, the Hunts Post nabbed 8 people in the High Street and asked them about their bookish habits. Only 2 said they bought books from Amazon. 3 said they got their books from the library, 1 said charity shops, 1 said Waterstone’s or Oxfam, and the other just commented that they had bought their last book on a ferry from Denmark!

Huntingdon Library

The Guardian pointed out:
Amazon “has no evidence its purchasers actually read the books they buy, however, and maybe, just maybe, inhabitants of those towns which fail to appear on the list have been avoiding Amazon to buy their books elsewhere – let’s hope from their local independents, which have been having a rough time of it lately.” Indeed! Which is a good reason to big up some more bookshops tomorrow!

It would be interesting to see if other online retailers have similar figures. I might ask Techie Husband, who works for The Other Big One, if his company collate area data too. Watch this space…

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