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Athabasca University

Book Towns Around The World

What is a Book Town?

It is a small town or village that has been revitalized by converting most of its retail space to the selling of books: generally second-hand and antiquarian.

Most of these towns are located in picturesque spots, or have some inherent architectural interest; but they have nonetheless suffered from the same rural depopulation that plagues much of the world. Clearly fresh air and cobblestones are not enough to keep people in rural areas.

Economic development is a serious issue for most rural communities. The answer often seems to lie in tourism. Some farmers offer farm-stay programs, or convert their buildings for use as Bed and Breakfast accommodation. Small towns and villages try to distinguish themselves with such special events as fishing competitions and seasonal fairs, or with ambitious wall-mural programs.

The Book Town idea is a recent and extremely successful addition to these attempts to bolster rural tourism as a means of keeping rural communities viable year-round.

Booktowns List

Location Web Site Google Map
Australia Clunes, Australia View Map
Australia Southern Highlands, Australia View Map
Belgium Damme, Belgium View Map
Belgium Redu, Belgium View Map
Canada Sidney, British Columbia View Map
Canada St. Martins, New Brunswick View Map
Denmark Torup, Denmark View Map
Finland Sysma, Finland View Map
France Bécherel, France View Map
France La Charite-sur-Loire, France View Map
France Montolieu, France View Map
France Montmorillon, France View Map
Germany Mühlbeck-Friedersdorf, Germany View Map
Germany Waldstadt Wunsdorf, Germany View Map
Germany Zossen, Germany View Map
Italy Montereggio, Italy View Map
Japan Jinbōchō, Japan View Map
Japan Kenbuchi, Hokkaidō, Japan View Map
Japan Mijawaga, Gifu, Japan   View Map
Luxembourg Vianden, Luxembourg   View Map
Malaysia Kampung Buku Langkawi, Malaysia View Map
Netherlands Bredevoort, Netherlands View Map
Norway Fjærland, Norway View Map
Norway Tvedestrand/Skagerrak, Norway View Map
Korea Paju, South Korea View Map
Spain Valladolid, Spain View Map
Sweden Mellösa, Sweden View Map
Switzerland St. Pierre de Clages, Switzerland View Map
England Atherston, England View Map
England Blaenavon, Wales   View Map
England Hay-on-Wye, Wales View Map
England Sedbergh, England View Map
England Wigtown, Scotland View Map
England Archer City, Texas View Map
England Hobart, New York View Map
England Grass Valley, California View Map
England Stillwater, Minnesota View Map

Why Books? Why Rural Communities?

In order to be successful, sellers of second-hand and antiquarian books must have lots of inexpensive display and storage space. This is often difficult to find in cities, or in urban neighbourhoods that their customers would feel comfortable frequenting. The empty and abandoned retail space of many rural communities offers ideal space for booksellers at affordable rates. Attracting enough booksellers to one community creates a critical mass that is appealing to bibliophiles. Prowling through one over-crowded, dusty bookshop after another is irresistible to the booklover.

People who search for unique and unusual books are more likely to be attracted to small, individually-owned premises than to identical big box stores. They like to form personal relationships with knowledgeable booksellers. They are more likely to be aware of and have respect for the cultural heritage that is represented by the buildings and locations of the Book Towns. And they are very likely to frequent the tea rooms, craft stores, and museums that complete the Book Town experience.


Unintended Consequences for Book Culture

Although Book Towns were not originally intended as a novel way to market books in the computer age, this is what has actually happened. Books have now become part of the travel and tourism industry. Book-buying holidays complement other theme-related holidays, like snorkeling or skiing.

The presence of the Book Towns has encouraged the growth of artisan workshops for paper-making and bookbinding. Small towns and villages offer cheap rent to artists as well as to booksellers.

Ironically, the age of the computer has produced more readers, reading about more topics, more often. Society’s demand for information and entertainment is stronger than ever. In urban areas, bookstores, especially the big box chains are everywhere. In rural areas, the aggregation of bookstores within a single Book Town creates a sort of rural “big box,” but with fresh air and cobblestones.

The Internet has also created a year-round market for the Book Town’s booksellers. Although a booklover may only be able to travel to a particular Book Town once each year on holiday, the inventories of many of the bookstores' are available on the Internet, or connected to Internet book-finding agencies. Many of the booksellers have used the Internet to create “book clubs”, which provide customers with information in club newsletters, as well as personalized services.

As a means of distributing books and promoting knowledge about books, Book Towns make use of one of the most recent communication technologies — the Internet — thereby helping to preserve one of the oldest.

Updated August 13 2015 by Student & Academic Services

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