Thinking allowed — 16 December 2014

I think I might have sold my soul to the devil, or at least the cyber version of Satan for recently I’ve been given the latest version of Amazon’s Kindle the Voyage, instead of going to a local bookshop to be served by knowledgeable, honest staff I find myself ordering books at the touch of a button.

Possibly the most enjoyable read I’ve
had this year was Jessie Burton’s
The Miniaturist.

It was bought on a whim after a friendly Waterstone’s shop assistant recommended it when I picked it up out of interest. Since then it’s been voted Waterstone’s book of the year.

Running CabbieBlog I get through a considerable number of books every year, and so with my new shiny Kindle in my hand I looked up Cross River Traffic by Chris Roberts, published in 2005 which retailed at £15. What price as the download version? Yours at the press of one’s digit – £1.02, and that includes 20 per cent VAT.

If my rudimentary maths is correct a 240 page book that has taken the author years of research to compile is now selling at 85p, that’s cheaper than my local charity shop sells Jeffrey Archer.

With that fierce level of competition it is hardly surprising that 67 independent bookshops closed last year, and today if you exclude outlets owned by large retailers we now have less than a thousand in the country.

The miniaturist While shops have to fork out ludicrously high rates and rents (unlike charity shops selling books), pay well-read staff to assist the public, heat and light their premises so customers are comfortable leafing through a volume that they will probably buy elsewhere, Amazon paid just £4.2 million in tax last year – J. K. Rowling probably paid more.

Evidence if any was needed of the demise of bookshops can be found down Charing Cross Road once the most bookish street in Britain. Feminist bookshop Silver Moon has been subsumed into Foyles, which itself has moved further south, presumably to avoid the higher rents now demanded to be near CrossRail; Murder One, once the UK’s only crime and mystery bookshop has been killed off; Art Specialists Shipley and Zwemmer have gone the same way; and Quinto’s is now a Patisserie Valerie.

Len Edgerly at The Kindle Chronicles podcast has been following the story of publisher Hachette. They had refused to give in to Amazon’s demands to supply heavily discounted books or face expulsion from the retail giant’s virtual shelves. Hachette – an appropriate name given their treatment – had the support of more than 900 authors, but to no avail. Apparently it has ‘come to an agreement’ with Amazon to have their titles featured alongside the bigger publishing houses.

All this might for the present be good for the consumer, but ultimately will anyone bother to write given their work is retailed at 85p?

Another downside of owning an e-book reader, and I bet Amazon know this, is that it’s more tempting to hit that buy button. The Japanese have a word for it – tsundoku – it means buying books and not reading them; letting books pile up unread on shelves, floors or nightstands.

Or nowadays piled up on one’s Kindle.

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(2) Readers Comments

  1. A very welcome article, thank you.
    So, isn’t it up to us to resist this erosion into our way of life. Major record stores that still exist no longer carry the stock they once had. Berwick St struggles as a vinyl-selling outpost and we’re at the mercy of Brazilian rivers and other websites. Who misses the sharing of the jazz assistants’ knowledge at Ray’s Jazz in Shaftesbury or downstairs in HMV?
    As a driver, I struggle to find a local motor spares shop, now forced into large chains in impersonal retail parks who suddenly no longer fit free!
    Books are a joy, not alone when aesthetically held, is the possession and use of a paperback so bulky and inconvenient?
    If we don’t want even more coffee shops and pizzerie on our streets, we must support our booksellers.

    • Thanks Brian. I also miss the friendly local hardware shop which would sell a single screw and with the ‘knowledge’ to tell you beforehand which one you would require.

What do you have to say for yourself?