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Whatever Happened to MBS?

October 26th, 2014
The wonderful Himalaya Bookshop & Tea House in Amsterdam - A Thing of the Past Now

The wonderful Himalaya Bookshop & Tea House in Amsterdam – A Thing of the Past Now







MBS stands for ‘Mind Body Spirit’, and is the category used by publishers for books on Spirituality/New Age/Popular Psychology and Self-Help. In the 90s whole sections of stores like Borders and Waterstones would be devoted to MBS, but over the years those sections seem to have shrunk to a few shelves. A niche within MBS is ‘Magic & the Occult’ and in London two fabulous bookshops – Atlantis and Treadwells – manage to flourish selling these kind of books, and Watkins in Cecil Court manages to thrive with a broader range that includes MBS titles, so the situation isn’t clear-cut. But, on the whole, it seems to me, the broader category of MBS looks as if it has been on the decline for years. This was very obvious to me on a recent visit to Amsterdam. The huge building on Prins Hendrikkade that once housed Oibibio – an MBS emporium on five floors with shops, therapy rooms and a café – is now an office block with a shop selling T-shirts. And the wonderful Himalaya has become a delicatessen! You can still find it described on websites: “Himalaya, a Bookstore and Tea-house, is an ideal retreat for anyone who desires a spiritual experience. Located between the busy streets of Red Light District and the Dam, Himalaya creates an ambience described as an Oasis by its many happy customers.” Those happy customers can no longer even visit its other shop in Rotterdam, which is apparently closing down. What do you think happened? Have we all grown up? Or been dumbed down? Did publishers and authors flood the market? I’d love to hear what you think about why this has happened.

55 Responses to “Whatever Happened to MBS?”

  1. Just wanted to mention Watkins bookshop in London too (in Cecil Court, off Charing Cross Road)!

  2. That’s funny because I was just thinking about that…I thought that maybe the whole MBS thing has become much more mainstream, and matters of energy/psychic stuff etc is more in the general psyche. So maybe those that become seriously interested are being catered for by more specialist sources (probably mostly online and even from some of the source countries like India or South America). Perhaps in time we will see the hardcore stuff coming out in the mainstream domain?! It’s still a shame there aren’t more dedicated bookshops though 🙁 I think Watkins is still going…

  3. I think many people are disappointed. The “lower segment” of these books promised quick links to health, wealth, happiness, wisdom and very much more. That came out differently. And of course people have no money, there is still a crisis going on, and people have to prioritise their spendings, so..

  4. Hi Philip, I think there are a few factors involved here. The influence of the revolutinary sixties spirit is waning as materialism has gripped the younger generations, who have little time for thought other than how to get what they need to fit in with their peers..the stuff they need is increasingly more electronic information technology which draws them deeper into the corporate material web. Have you noticed in the cycling phenomena there seems to be a need to become more machine like, become part of a machine. Efficiency and economy have become more and more important. In all our life as the margins we all operate within become tighter and tighter. And there is little space for the unexplained and exploration into it. Look at the colour of the new cars down your street grey black or white..very austere even colour is going out of fashion.!

    • Hadn’t thought of that Peter re car colour but you’re right! When we were young we wanted to break out. Now perhaps techno-culture means young people break out so apparently easily in the virtual world, they don’t do it in the ‘real world’?

  5. The internet is the most likely reason for bookshops to close. I tend to buy my books through recommendations and reviews, all this information can be gained on the internet. I’m afraid this is the modern culture of today. Everything is at the end of the finger tips!!

    • Ah yes! Even buying a washing machine is easier and cheaper on the net! I believe one independent bookshop was closing every week in the UK a while back…So maybe it’s not so much about the market dropping as about our buying habits changing…

  6. Hello Phillip,
    I don’t think we have all grown up (alas). At least, not completely. I do think that MBS has gone a bit more mainstream and the promiss of a quick fix will probably have played a part as well. I also like to think that the general level of consciousness has risen a (little) bit during the past twenty odd years. Maybe MBS offered a bit of an ‘escape’ for a lot of people as well. The lure of ‘magic’ so to speak.
    However, I CAN tell you what happened to Oibibio and Himalaya. Oibibio went bankrupt ages ago due to mismanagement. It is a very expensive location and the costs of renting a space there to teach a class were very high.

    With Himalaya it was different. The rules regarding rent prices for businesses were changed in Amsterdam. This meant that building owners could basically ask what they wanted. The rent price for Himalaya would be increased by one hundred thousand euros per year and Himalaya couldn’t afford that. That was why they had to close after 35 years… I still miss that place very much. It was a ray of light in the centre of Amsterdam and a fantastic resource for books, tarot cards and basically anything esoteric one could think of… and they had great pie too :-).

    • Thanks Martijn for that point – that Himalaya’s disappearance wasn’t so much about the demand for MBS dropping as about greedy landlords! I too missed it when we were there!

  7. Hmm… interesting. And though Hennie raises a valid point, I think it’s something else as well, something positive even, though perhaps not so much for MBS writers. In my college days I was very fortunate to spend my free time at Oibibio in Amsterdam. It was a quiet, comfort zone and a perfect place to study. In those days I read and bought a lot of MBS books.

    Now, I’m more living it. I go to spa’s and wellness centres on a regular basis or go out into nature and meditate. And I see a lot of people around me doing the same thing. Wellness centres are booming and I think that people want to experience Mind, Body and Spirit hands-on, so to speak. Not out of a book.

    I have no statistics to back this up of course, but it is a shift I’ve noticed for the last couple of years. Just my two cents 🙂

    • Interesting Lisa. Stephanie and I are doing that too – maybe it is a shift, as you say, from reading to experience!

  8. Online sales and e books are clearly the culprits. I have just finished adding up my book sales for last year and found that hard copies sold through retail shops account for a fraction of my book sales.

    Good old Watkins sell a huge amount of books for me (The London Ley Lines book has been on their best seller shelves for over two years now), but virtually 90% of all my other sales are internet based.

    Watkins, Atlantis and Treadwells are all still open and are probably protected by assorted spells, but generally, shops rely on loyal and regular customers, especially if they are catering for specialist interests and don’t have huge sales of footballers’ memoirs and slebs biogs to fill the tills. So if you value your favourite MBS bookshops make a point of going in there regularly to support them and keep them in business.
    You never know what rare tomes you might find on the shelves.

    Chris Street
    earthstars publishing.

    • Yes I’m starting to find the same Chris. The most for me in the last year came in from the audiobook and ebook sales of DruidCraft – The Magic of Wicca & Druidry – all online sales. And Hear Hear for supporting your local specialist bookshop!

  9. I think that the plethora of self help books that simply didn’t help and which meant you *had* to buy the next one, has diminished public confidence in these books. The core of good ones remain.
    Plus, you know, online sellers have a vast section of this sort of book. I accidentally listed one of my novels in “personal transformation” and I’ve been very amused at the kind of shoulders it was rubbing against in the top 100 for that category.
    It’s a shame, really, because I quite enjoyed browsing these sections in bookshops. You could also tell what was the latest thing that was now on the wane by the sheer shelf space. The time lapse between a subject, say, Angels, being popular and being able to commission and publish a book means that by the time it hits the shelves, the subject is in decline.

    • A good point Vivienne! I used to enjoy or be intrigued ‘watching’ subjects wax and wane too!

  10. Spiritual book shops have closed down here in Australia too. Adyar bookshop had been in Sydney for many years, and is now only online. I think the Internet has a lot to do with it, as many online bookstores are selling books pretty cheaply.
    I was only saying to a friend last week, “How many sets of tarot cards do we need!” Doreen Virtue for example, has brought out yet another set of cards. I have nothing against her work, but she just keeps churning out stuff.
    But perhaps people are finding their own way. I hope so, because the journey can be lonesome, especially in a big city, where you rarely find likeminded souls. I used to love sitting in the Adyar bookshop, just being around people like me, knowing that they were there.

    • That function of a bookshop being an ‘oasis’ and a meeting place is important I think Rosheen. Treadwells has a clever device – a ‘psychoanalysts’s couch’ prominently displayed where you can sit and chat and read. That’s obviously what cafes in bookstores are trying to achieve. But I wonder how many people pop in, have a coffee and a browse, and then buy cheaper on Amazon?

      • Hello Philip,
        My friend’s family owned a homeware shop for years, and more recently people would come in to check prices and actually say that they could buy the items cheaper online. If the people who visit Treadwells want to keep their special oasis, then they need to show loyalty and buy there. I am so happy to hear that the Atlantis bookshop in London is still there. It was a magical place for me. I was 18 and had never been in a spiritual bookshop before. While I stood talking to the owner and saying I had no idea what to buy, a book fell off a high shelf and hit me on the shoulder! The owner said “Well you can start with that one!”
        Nothing like that can happen on Amazon!

  11. Ha! A number of people have reported this over the years – their path starting or changing direction because of books falling off shelves! A version of ‘bibliomancy’ !

  12. Hello Philip. That’s an interesting question. I don’t necessarily think there is a decline in the popularity of the subject. Now we just have other methods of sharing information. A quick internet search on anything metaphysical or new age will bring you hundreds of personal blogs and websites. Youtube has many, many videos from people who are into mysteries, explaining the unexplained, Angels, UFOs, chakra balancing, crystal healing… The list is endless. It’s a shame that we have lost some bookshops because of this. But it is good that enthusiasts can share their passion so easily now. The downside is having less places to meet like minded people face to face. We can still find each other, it just takes a little more effort.

    • yes I think you’re right – the upside is the ease with which we can access this material from home, the downside is less face to face contact. Perhaps that’s why we have such an interest in the gatherings and events we put on in OBOD. They tend to fill up very quickly as if there’s a real need/hunger for ‘real-life’ connection.

  13. The truth is that all the new age folk who thought MBS was fun and cool have all gone away – on to the next thing…. All that’s left is the hard core of dedicated followers, but they are a vastly reduced number. Thanks good goodness for Atlantis, Watkins and Treadwells – but fewer people than ever take the trouble to seek them out.

      • It is serious work now. No more floating around the festivals. No more mere dabbling, dipping the foot in the water. We are swimming now.

    • The spiritual ones are growing and building. Look at how the Findhorn community has grown over its 50 years. A few people living on the beach in caravans are now giving advice world wide on environmentail issues.

  14. Hello Philip,

    I believe that there are a number of factors in play in the demise of bookshops generally and MBS bookshops in particular. The internet certainly has had a profound effect on people’s buying habits but also on the way that they choose books. In the “old days,” we went along to the book shop and read the fly leaf, the back cover, the first few pages and made our minds up based on a short physical examination of what was there. Now, we can read reviews on-line – lots of reviews. We no longer buy books “on spec” but after researching other readers’ experiences. The reviews also extend to the perceived reliability of the information given by particular authors. As local bookshops have disappeared, the cost of any particular book from the nearest physical shop is increased by the cost of getting to it. In my own case, add another £5 or so. Of course there is also the general trend in the younger people of not reading anything in an actual paper book – spoon fed information on a variety of screens seems to be the way things are going. It’s very sad – nothing will ever replace for me the smell of a bookshop or the satisfaction of turning the page to find what happens next.

    • I agree Honor. I love visiting bookshops. But you point to an interesting fact that gives a positive slant to the changing habit: that the internet can facilitate a more reliable appraisal of a book. Nowadays I’d trust perhaps a bunch of good reviews and interesting blog posts about a book more than my own method of reading the back and the first few pages in the shop. So perhaps in this way there is a greater discernment being fostered.

  15. I agree with Hennie’s point of the low-segment-thing. People realized that the recipes of a lot of self-help-books didn’t work for them, or that the contents of a lot of the books sounded similar.
    Ebooks are an important point (but not that big – a lot of people love it to hold real books in their hands), too, but here in Germany I realized another point: I never saw the really inspiring spiritual books, card decks or whatever in a bookshop, neither in smaller nor in bigger towns respectively bookshops. I have to go online to get those books, and a lot of them are not avaible in German and have to be sent from abroad. For me it is no problem to read books in English or French, but for a lot of people it is.
    And when I look what fellow passengers read in the train I see more and more very trivial literature. Money seems not to be the point, but that kind of literature is it what is mainly available in the bookshops, especially in those at the rail stations.

    • About trivial literature Jennifer: I find it amazing that a book like 50 Shades of Grey can become a best-seller and earn millions.I never read it, and don’t have a problem with the subject matter, but I have read excerpts and it’s just so badly written! Like The Celestine Prophecy, Dan Brown’s books or even The Mists of Avalon, which all seemed just so poorly written! Or am I just a snob?!

      • If you’re a snob I’m one too.
        I was talking of literature that is written so much poorer than your examples, a lot of the actual novels available in the local bookshops are written in that style. Very sad.

        • If you read about the Indian time cycles, you will see that we are in the Kali Yuga, the cycle of degeneration. People become less spiritual and materialism takes over. According to the cycle, we are coming to the end of it, so the spiritual Satya Yuga is already overlapping. I try to live in that golden age now, but not always easy.

      • It shows where the masses are at! The spiritual path is not jist about reading books and doing workshops, as you know. It is about self searching and helping others. That means coming out of the comfort zone, into “a zone unknown.” (Joseph Campbell)
        But better reading 50 Shades of Grey than out creating terror in the world.

  16. I think it’s probably part of the publishing shake-out caused by e-books, plus just the normal shift of tastes over time.

    MBS was never mainstream, but 20 years ago, bookstores — especially the big outlets — could afford shelf-space for niche markets. Now, they’re going for bottom-line, I think as a matter of financial survival, and if it doesn’t pay, it doesn’t play. I’ve seen a big expansion of the “knick-knacks” in our stores — coffee mugs, leather-bound blank books, calendars, Nook sales and support, etc. — and the Young Adult section, which is a new category, is huge. Children’s books subdivided into age-ranges, and took over a much bigger area, with entire shelves dedicated to multiple copies of authors like Rick Riordan. The graphic-novel/Manga/RPG section has expanded. The store didn’t get any bigger, so other things had to go.

    I’ve also noted a shift in the MBS selection. Ten years ago, it was dominated by Wicca — one entire rack, with spillover. Now, Wicca is a single shelf, and what has taken over the reduced overall space is stuff like The Secret, and the Abraham material.

  17. I doubt that the author of 50 Shades would have had a best-seller had the subject matter been different. I waited until copies flooded the charity shops before buying one and quickly realized that the actual writing style was terrible. It was on a level with it’s less “racy” forbearers, the dreaded Mills and Boone books. If wanting something to stimulate a few brain cells is being a snob, then I’m in the snob camp with you !

  18. I think that there are a number of different intersecting reasons as to why MBS book stores are having a rough go of it. The evolving online market certainly doesn’t help, but it’s not the only factor.

    Like Hennie said above, it seems many people were looking for a quick fix. When the promises of The Secret didn’t pan out and (as John Michael Greer put it) fell before the reality of physics and thermodynamics, they turned their attention to the next “sure” thing.

    Additionally, brick and mortar stores in general can no longer expect just to open their doors and have customers flood in. The MBS stores that are still successful here in the States (and who haven’t fallen prey to circumstances like increased rent or natural disasters like flood or fire), realize that they really aren’t in the business of selling books, but in selling an experience. They change up their displays, offer classes, and have knowledgeable staff. They also may have diversified beyond MBS. One of my favorite haunts, Sage’s Pages, specialized in children’s books downstairs and metaphysics upstairs–but she didn’t just have things labeled MBS/Occult–she had wonderful sections of mythology, religion and world history. And talk about customer service, she would also drop books off at her customer’s homes on the way from work for the occasional emergency birthday present!

    Lastly, everything moves in cycles. At this point, at least as far as traditional publishers go, we appear to be in a state of contraction. However, there are now so many wonderful imprints and authors available online who didn’t have a voice before. If only there were a way to combine the wonderful tactile and community experiences of B&M stores with the variety available online. One can dream…

  19. And in Santa Barbara, California, there once was a shop called the Hall of the Mountain King and numerous other little quaint hangouts in a similar vein. Now it’s covered over by a Nordstrom’s. Those of us of the age (and place in time) who got to experience these special nooks and crannies were among the most fortunate. Sad to see them slowly disappearing into the mist.

  20. A fascinating subject – it’s funny, I was reflecting on this myself just yesterday!

    I’m a little bit troubled by Peter’s suggestion above that the young are “more materialistic” than older generations. It certainly isn’t my experience; remember, Millennials are the generation who grew up with Carebears, Captain Planet, and Disney’s Pocahontas – now adults, we’re just as familiar with spiritual themes as our parents. My experience is simply that the more spiritual people in my generation have ended up following Eastern Religions – such as Buddhism – rather than Western Esoteric or Pagan spiritualities. We don’t tend to chain ourselves to formal institutions, but that does not reflect a lack of spiritual interest.

    Personally, I agree with the consensus above that the decline of the MBS circuit is due to changes in the publishing and bookselling industry more broadly. The internet has transformed the way we source, read, and discuss literature – and indeed the way we socialise. Local bookshops are under increasing pressure, and bigger chains are streamlining their stock so as to focus on more popular, mainstream lines – like travel, fiction, and picturebooks.

    Unfortunately, MBS bookshops were one of the major ways in which people new to the “scene” made friends and got involved. The reason why Paganism never needed evangelism to grow was that these Aladdin’s caves acted as honeypots, drawing in the bookish, curious, sensitive types who were seeking something. I remember reading the “Sweep” series of books aged 15, and cursing the fact that there weren’t any occult bookshops in Reading! But these “Otherworldly Gateways” – as it were – have now been closed, by a conjunction of market forces. Going back to my point about Buddhism being popular amongst the young, I think this is in part because Buddhism has a stronger public profile: temples and monasteries exist throughout the United Kingdom. Paganism, Druidry, and Wicca once had such buildings – the MBS bookshop – but these are now disappearing, and waning in influence. Perhaps we need to think of something new to replace them?

      • An excellent suggestion Rosheen! The problem with nemeta currently – I think – is that in their current form they lack the same “front of house” potential as a bookshop. Most groves are private affairs, that lack any form of permanent presence – either taking place in somebody’s front room, back garden, or on public land.

        In the past, all such “spiritual working groups” – nemeta, covens, moots, blots, circles, meditation groups and so on – were supplied and supported by MBS bookshops, that acted to bring in new seekers and funnel them towards a suitable place to learn their chosen craft. With the decline of these shops, that same “bridge” doesn’t exist. The internet can help, but there’s a lot of out of date or inaccurate information up there, that can only be cleaned up when you actually meet a local involved in the scene. Of course, MBS bookshops had that human contact as a matter of course. The internet does not.

        But then, if Druids started running permanent ritual sites, then things would be quite different…

    • Good to hear your voice here Jonathan, sticking up for younger people! And I do think it’s very interesting the way the generational differences are influential here.
      My generation were so used to books being the prime medium of conveying ideas and spiritual teachings I think we’re still reeling.
      Ted Talks is an amazing example of how fantastic ideas are so easily available now.
      And yes there is a whole network of retreat centres, urban temples and so on on offer for followers of Buddhism…

      • Well, I thought I might bite – given the topic of my talk in December!

        You’re absolutely right about generational differences being at play. Members of my generation – as a whole – source a lot more of their information online, although reading for reading’s sake is still popular. What I should stress is that these differences should not be overblown, however: one thing my experiences in OBOD have taught me is that the different cohorts have a lot more in common than we are taught to believe. What I’ve found is that members of my generation are be very receptive to Druidry, if they only get to discover what it involves!

        And then, as you say, Buddhism has a big infrastructure to help attract new members…

  21. As I regular exhibitor and organiser of MBS around the UK the change is crystal clear – the subject has collapsed under the weight of its own contradictions. Marry that with greedy landlords, high business rates, Amazon, e-books and the general survival mode that people have been in for the past few years and you arrive where we are today. But I see it as a problem with the subject primarily. The question is, what comes next?

    • A brilliant analysis Richard. I’d love to hear you tease out those contradictions!

  22. All bookshops are having a rough time of it and many have gone, so I assume the loss of MBS books has much to do with that. Shelf space is compromised by big houses paying for their intended best sellers to occupy the tables in waterstones and others. Pagan publishing is certainly doing ok – I say this as someone who works and writes for thriving publishing house Moon Books, and JHP (parent company) does a range of MBS imprints. we’re seeing ebook sales rise. The whole publishing industry is going through a strange and unsettled time, but there is most certainly a market for well written, original and thoughtful spiritual work.

  23. I guess it’s all to do with economics and commitment. Personally, reducing something to three initials already shows something wrong: if a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well – and beyond mind, body, spirit, there is heart and soul, often lacking in the New Age craze.

    Actually, when I arrived in Amsterdam in the early 1980s there was a huge Kosmos centre, which was like nothing I had seen in London. This, to me, was vastly superior to the later Oibibio which had a much more commercial feel about it, New Age as a business. Himalaya was run by a spiritual group of Indian origin (the one that split in two with the mother of the original boy guru) and had a certain idealistic motive, including its choice of location.

    There is still the great Au Bout du Monde = = Singel 313
    Amsterdam, Netherlands. T. 020 625 1397 = and a number of British and Americam shops, mostly international, some local = – with a nice tiny corner for tea & teas – also the excellent = and the great centre DeRoos (TheRose)- “for consciousness and spirituality” – which also has a shop and cafe / restaurant –

    It’s not directly relevant, but I’m reminded of the Bible verse : “A generation goes and a generation comes, But the earth remains forever.” – . Likewise bookshops and cafes come and go, so many books are now bought online. Some things one can influence, some not; over the years I’ve realized the best I can do is focus on what I want and can do and if I do it with a benign heart, people and the environment will respond charitably. Next time you or anyone reading this come to Amsterdam, let me know and I’ll do what I can to help.

    • Thank you so much Christopher! Next time we’re in Amsterdam we’ll let you know and look up those places you mention. I remember giving a talk at the Kosmos centre all those years ago – and yes it was great! And huge actually! 🙂

    • MBS was really for those dabbling in spirituality, perhaps for the first time. The true spiritual workers have always been there, working quietly in the background without any festivals or publicity. MBS was the top layer for the public to wet their feet, and when they reach a deeper layer, they don’t need to keep buying books or go to MBS festivals. The spiritual path can be a solitary one, mainly because out of 6 billion on a planet, there are probably only a handful of conscious seekers.. Makes me wonder just how many awakened ones are here right now.
      In the hustle and bustle of London in the 70s, I found the Lucis Trust. I use them as an example of the quiet spiritual workers who exist, and have always existed in the world. With their vast library of books, an arcane school and their work in World Goodwill, I found people who knew that when the time was right, you would find them. There are many like them in the world. We just have to trust that they are there. Thanks so much Phillip for starting this thread. It really has been food for thought, and I have enjoyed the many posts. You have an amazing group of people in Druidry.

  24. Maybe it’s the wrong question/s you ask Phillip. I often think about the Grail question, and reckon the most appropriate question to ask to anything is not so much “what does it mean?” but “what does it mean to me?”, that is “hope can I best respond?” I find there is truth in the often glibly used saying “when one door closes another opens” – it’s up to me to stay focused on “the things that make for peace” – Checking that quote, I also found this sermon – – which rings true, whether or not one is a Christian. If one gets the inner world right, the outer world will come into focus in a good way (yes, I know one still needs to make effort, “right action” in this material world) – and one will see the new door opening – or asking or inviting me to open it.
    Not totally “pie in the shy”: I’ve been invited to be “our special guest” – all expenses paid – at a 40 tear anniversary at a country house in Wiltshire I succesfully bid for 40 years ago. I’ve been wanting to get back to Britain or an extensive visit, this is a very welcome sign and during this visit I hope to set up conditions for next year – I was also invited to sing at Glastonbury by someone I met when I was singing on the street in Amsterdam.

  25. Hello Philip,

    Besides the internet being a quick and easy way to search for various genres of books, witch are not so regular in most bookshops I think, from my personal point a view, that the MBS genre may have had its period of being ‘new’ and thus populair among a wide range of spiritual ‘seekers’. In general now a days churches are running empty due to scandals and many people whom were searching for alternatives, are either dissapointed or they don’t feel rooted enough in non traditional forms of religieus/spiritual paths, to give it a well balanced place in there lives. So partly I think it’s a cultural determent thing in our western mostly Christian rooted society. Maybe we’ve entered an era in witch we’re only have just began exploring new ways of religieus and spiritual meaning, and like the waves of the ocean there are times of high and times of low interest.

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