New Yorker opens new chapter in Swedish book market

Sweden may be one of the few corners of the world where Amazon has yet to raise its bookselling flag, but that may just be a matter of time.

The country’s biggest online bookstore, Bokus, snapped up its rival Ex Libris earlier in September and now claims to have 3.5 million titles in its catalogue. Four stores owned by Ex Libris in Stockholm were bought by Akademibokhandeln.

So the big are getting bigger and surely only an optimist, a fan or a novice would hurl themselves into the old-fashioned end of the market?

Margaret Patane is all three. A native New Yorker who arrived in Sweden 23 years ago, she has just opened New York Stories, an English bookshop on Odengatan in the heart of Stockholm.

After 16 years in the airline business, she should know something about being in the right place at the right time. And with Swedish book sales up 6% on last year – and up 40% on 1999 – Patane is certainly enjoying the challenge of getting her small two-storey shop off the ground.

What made you decide to open a bookshop?

All the time I was working in the airline industry I was known for being a bibliophile, but I could never find enough time for books. When this place became available I just decided to go for it. I’m an idealist and I would have been more afraid of not trying.

Do you have any previous experience in the book business?

Not a jot. And some professionals in the book industry have been less than positive. They seem to think you need to have done an internship or something if you are to have any chance of succeeding. But I have all this management experience behind me and, without wanting to sound egotistical, I just thought: how hard can it be?

How have the first few weeks been?

What I’ve experienced so far is what I dreamed of. There are people out there who just love coming in and talking about books. It’s the happiest I’ve ever been.

The shop is called New York Stories. Do you intend for American books to predominate?

Not at all. The name is just a nod to where I’m from. A lot of people told me I should call it Little Shop around the Corner like in that Meg Ryan movie, but I had to keep reminding them that poor Meg went bankrupt because Tom Hanks opened up his gigantic shop nearby. The large shops are fine but as they expand you find that the sellers don’t know the inventory any more and they all start to become the same. I stock a mishmash of books. Since I’m passionate about short stories there are a lot of those, but I also have novels, travel books and plenty of other stuff.

I noticed that there is a gay and lesbian section upstairs. Any particular reason?

There is actually. It ties in with my 16 years in the airline industry, which is second only to the entertainment industry for gay representation. I really didn’t have much choice in the matter.

Have your customers mainly been native English speakers or Swedes?

Swedes luckily. I decided from the get-go that I wouldn’t get off the ground if I had to rely on just tourists and expats. And a lot of the Swedes I’ve spoken to in the shop have an incredible depth of knowledge when it comes to English literature.

There are a lot of other small, niche bookshops in the area. Tough competition or strength in numbers?

Definitely strength in numbers. We have already met up and discussed the possibility of setting up events where there will be something different happening in all of our shops on a given day. Some friends have said they would like to see me behind the counter dressed in leather and wielding a whip but I’m not so sure.

With the internet accounting for an ever larger chunk of the book market, are you not worried that bookshops may soon be a thing of the past?

Well, I’m not very knowledgeable about the internet but from what I’ve understood it is not actually taking as large a chunk of the Swedish market as people think. And judging from the first couple of weeks people still like to come into a store, handle the books and talk to someone about their favourite authors.

I love the idea of neighbourhood and have always thought it is so important to support local shops. And even though it is an English bookshop I am keen to support local authors and provide them with a platform to showcase their work.

A difficult question to finish with: if you were to recommend one book to our readers that you have in stock, what would it be?

Oh that’s really tough. But I think if I absolutely had to name one it would be The Moviegoer by Walker Percy. He is a huge favourite of mine.