While the rioters in England this week have looted shops selling shoes, clothes, computers, and plasma televisions, they've curiously bypassed one particular piece of merchandise: books. The Economist observes that while rioters have a centuries-old history of book burning, "books are losing out to high-end jeans and Apple-made gadgets" in London, with the Waterstone's bookstore chain emerging unscathed and the WH Smith chain reporting only one incident (some stores closed as a precaution). In explaining that the store would probably stay open during the unrest, one Waterstone's employee even felt comfortable enough to issue a dare to the rioters: "If they steal some books, they might actually learn something." The exception to the rule is the gay bookstore Gay's the Word, which had its front window smashed and its shopfront splattered with eggs (notably, no goods were stolen). "Our impression is that there are certain people who have an issue with a visible gay business and are using the excuse of chaos to cause anti-gay damage," an assistant manager told PinkPaper.
Confronted with all this evidence, The Huffington Post poses a couple vexing questions: "Did the bookstores survive because the rioters respect reading--or because they simply don't care about books? Is this a positive or a negative sign for the future of the industry?" Most people seem to be embracing the theory that the rioters simply didn't want books, particularly in the digital age. "The only shop NOT looted down the road from where I live was Waterstones," British author Patrick French tweeted. "I guess the rioters have Kindles--bought or looted." Martin Fletcher touched on a similar theme at the end of a report for NBC News. "A final thought that may say a lot about our times," he concluded. "In this shopping center every store had been looted but one, the book store." The "underlying message for bookshops," The Economist adds, is "hardly front-page news: looters, like more conventional consumers, are all too happy to ignore their wares."