If you believe the hype, the independent book shop has been dying a slow death since well before Tom Hanks’ pseudo-Borders superstore moved in on Meg Ryan’s boutique bookshop in 1998’s You’ve Got Mail.
It was around the time of the film’s release that Montse Prats and Marc Valli left their jobs at a failing art bookshop near Charing Cross to open their own – Magma – in Earlham Street, Covent Garden.
Sixteen years, four stores and their own successful product lines later and the pair have demonstrated that they have what Meg didn’t, the ability to flourish in the era of iPads.
The reason for all this success seems to be Magma’s near constant state of evolution. What started as a shop for art and design-related books and magazines has developed into a fully-fledged lifestyle brand, embodied by its flagship store on Shorts Gardens, which opened last year.
Here, they stock their own creative product lines, born from recognising the need to diversify and frustration over not being able to find the types products they wanted to stock.
There are high-quality prints, accessories, stationery, games and books, as well as a separate line of gifts in partnership with publishing house Lawrence King.
The store itself is laid out like a design student’s dream sequence; shelves stacked with glossy coffee table books, pigeonholes bursting with colour, a print counter in the corner and event space for artist talks and exhibitions.
But you certainly don’t have to be an arty type to appreciate Magma’s ethos: “a shop that feeds on feedback”. “Walking into Magma should be like walking into a thermometer, an instrument indicating ‘where things are at’ at a certain point in time and space,” according to Montse and Marc.
“Not because we think so, but as a result of that process, that alchemy: the power of suggestions, connections, reactions, interactions, overreactions.”
This process, they argue, is something you can’t replicate online.
The pair agree: “The Internet, that wonderful invention, can bring you everything – except a breath of fresh air. “So this is the essence of what we do: to try and capture some of that influx and crystallise it under one roof.”
Magma, 29 Shorts Gardens WC2H 9AP