Waterstones and Kindle

Waterstones started selling kindles in their stores today. That’s not a surprise, the date’s been long-trailed, but it is still an important step in UK book retailing.

The offering is a fairly simple one. You can buy kindles in-store, and if you do you get points on your Waterstones’ loyalty card for the purchase. Soon there’ll be wifi in stores (it’s not ready at launch) so you can browse Amazon and buy books on your kindle while still in the shop. Staff will help set up kindles (not that most people will need much help, they’re pretty simple devices) and of course offer advice on which books to buy.

Interestingly, you don’t get loyalty card points for ebook purchases, even if bought while you’re in the store. You will though be able to browse books on your kindle while in-store, and as long as you’re in-store you can keep browsing to your heart’s content – you’re not limited to just reading a sample. You could, if time were no object, just sit there and read entire books in full.

Intuitively none of this looks like a smart move. Waterstones is providing shop frontage and promotion for its biggest rival, and selling a device which allows readers to buy books from the comfort of their own home and have them instantly delivered. Intuition though is often wrong.

Here’s how I think the Waterstones’ offering will progress, and how I think they’re looking to monetise this. To make this work Waterstones need to increase in-store dwell time. Basically they need to get potential customers to stop in the store, browse, and stay long enough that they either decide they like the book they’re considering and so buy it on the spot, or feel they should buy while there out of some vague sense of obligation given they have spent so much time in the shop.

To achieve that you need more of some things, and less of others. The more is chairs and coffee. The less is books.

Browsing physical books is a mobile activity (at first anyway). The reader wanders among shelves, picking up books, looking them over, putting some back. Eventually they may wish to sit down and look at a few in greater depth, but initially at least they’re walking and looking.

Browsing a kindle is a sedentary activity. Walking while reading a device is a recipe for collisions. The reader here will want to sit down immediately, to have some time in a comfortable place where they can use their kindle to look up books (which frankly isn’t the smoothest way to access the Amazon store in my experience) and to have a bit of a read of the books they decide to consider.

When most of your browsers are just wandering the shelves you don’t need that much seating. In fact, you can perfectly well get away with no seating at all (though in larger stores there’s usually some somewhere). When most of your browsers want to stay still for extended periods of time though it’s obvious you’re going to need a lot more places for them to do so.

Equally, if you want browsers to linger, to enjoy the e-browsing experience, coffee makes a lot of sense. US stores have long led on combining in-store coffee houses and books, but plenty of UK bookstores have followed that lead. My beloved London Review Bookshop even has a (excellent) cafe attached. With kindles you also don’t have to worry about customers damaging the books they don’t buy by putting them in puddles or crumbs (I realise kindles don’t do well in puddles either, but it’s the customers’ kindles as opposed to the store’s books and anyway, most people are careful what they put their consumer electronics down onto).

So, more seating and where possible coffee. The shops though aren’t magically getting bigger to accommodate all this – something has to go. The obvious thing is books.

That doesn’t mean Waterstones will stop selling books of course. It just means it will stock fewer of them. Likely fewer multiple copies of the same title, but also perhaps a greater focus on the books people are likely to buy in hardcopy. I’d expect in a year or so, perhaps sooner, to see more space devoted to gift titles, stationery, coffee table books and the like which the kindle doesn’t replace, and less to say the more obscure literary titles and back catalogue (though I could easily be wrong on what kind of books they’ll reduce stock of).

From a booklover’s perspective all this seems a bit depressing. If I’m remotely right (and the only safe prediction is that predictions are generally wrong) we’re talking about bookstores as places to hang out, to relax, drink coffee and use free wi-fi to check out titles on your kindle (again, a development of an existing US retail model). The shops will be attractive and will have helpful staff, but a larger share of physical product will likely be aimed at the non-reader, since the reader is online.

All that and it’s incredibly risky. The alternative scenario is people buy their kindles, maybe at Waterstones but equally possibly they’ll just try them out in-store, head home thinking about them and then buy them online from Amazon that evening. Those same people once they have their kindles may browse occasionally in Waterstones, but just leave books in their Amazon basket buying them later when they think they’re likely to get round to reading them. On that scenario Waterstones becomes just a large advert for Amazon, and eventually goes bust from lack of its own trade.

The problem is that there is no path forward that isn’t incredibly risky. Waterstones has a ton of expensive high street real estate. It’s business model is predicated in large part on selling physical books on a volume basis, but it’s plain to anyone paying the slightest attention that the mass market is moving online. Staying as they are is an option, but it’s not necessarily any less risky than what I’ve outlined above.

To survive Waterstones has to somehow adapt to the ebook. It’s made a start by selling ebooks through its own website, but Amazon’s market share in the ebook space is so overwhelming that there’s a real sense in which it’s the only game in town. If to the average reader the word ereader might as well mean kindle, then Waterstones’ choices are either to try to shift that perception (good luck) or to come to terms with it. They’ve chosen the latter.

Waterstones’ strategy is to become the cleaner wrasse to Amazon’s shark. That’s not the best outcome imaginable, but it’s a lot better than being eaten.

Anyone interested in this topic should also read this BBC interview with James Daunt, where he discusses some of the ideas regarding dwell time (not that he uses that phrase, it’s one I know from an airport investment I worked on) and coffee.

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21 Comments

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21 responses to “Waterstones and Kindle

  1. Like most people, I’m nervous of changes to things I love. Sure, I’m happy with the idea of change in general, but specific change can often be uncomfortable. Since I love books, and bookshops, that naturally makes me a little sceptical in this particular instance.

    There are other ways to see this though. Imagine a bookshop, clean, well lit, comfortable seats and decent coffee. People are sitting down browsing kindles, helpful staff are around to answer queries and offer suggestions, but they don’t push themselves on customers who don’t need them. Around the walls are shelves of attractive books, many gift-focused but also new hardbacks and attractive small press imprints (textbooks, which also aren’t suitable for kindle, are probably somewhere further back in the shop).

    That’s the same vision as in my post above, just a more positive description of it. I suspect that’s James Daunt’s vision. We’ll see how it plays out.

  2. termitespeaker

    As an ignorant American, I had never heard of Waterstone’s, so I looked them up and now I’m more informed! Would you say they are comparable to Barnes & Noble, only maybe a little more high-brow? By the way, I searched for my own name, and was chagrined (tongue-in-cheek) to find they don’t carry my books!
    When I started self-publishing, I had to buy a Kindle because I intended to publish on it. But I always start with the print publication. E-books feel frightingly impermanent. I really wish I had bought the Simon Gough Book in paperback. Do you ever read Derek Haines’ blog The Vandal? You might want to see his current post, And You Thought You Were Buying E-books. http://www.derekhaines.ch/vandal/2012/10/and-you-thought-you-were-buying-e-books/?

  3. Thoughtful post Max, I enjoyed it. What you’ve described closely mirrors the trend in libraries … They don’t have the same commercial imperative but they have to justify their role to their funders and their justification is clearly changing in the digital environment … Increasing their role as community meeting centres, and as places people can learn about and try out new reading technologies is part of it. But these are things that wouldn’t work for businesses like Waterstones! Interesting and concerning times but I have faith that writers and readers will survive. They have to!

  4. I used to imagine that I wanted to own a book shop. Now I’m glad I don’t. I understand businesses trying to adapt to the new book environment but this scenario is iffy.
    On another note, have you heard of the possible merger between penguin and Random house/

  5. Another step towards Satan’s lair. Kindles, ebooks, lazypad, indolens, whatever you want to call ‘em: they’re appalling. Best case scenario: Dwindle’s’ll end up being the source of thriller/romance/bumf sales and serious fiction – at more of a premium – will be the stuff of paper and ink.

    I don’t want to think of the other options. That’s right: I have my head in the sand. But I’m no Luddite or anti-change griper. I love computers and what they bring. But they’re nothing to do with books. Reading is not the same as immersing yourself in a great book and I don’t think you can do any more than read things on a ‘device’.

    Bad times.

  6. I add about 100 new books a year to my library — and haven’t purchased a volume from a book store in more than three years.
    I don’t own (and likely never will) a cell phone, iPad or ereader of any kind.
    Obviously, I am eminently qualified to comment on the issue that you have raised. :-)
    I would, however, point to another ink on dead trees industry, the newspaper business (or even magazines), as one that has experienced some similar challenges that might provide some lessons. First radio, then television, were going to destroy the industry. And while both did suck away some advertising revene, newspapers continued to flourish — radio and tv were competitors but newspapers were able to make them complementary as well — profits swelled. Alas, only a few international titles (the NY Times, Guardian) have been able to start successfully adapting to the Internet and most newspapers are now in their dying days.
    So my suggestion would be that Waterstones Kindle decision is an attempt to make the ereader a “both/and” rather than “either/or” proposition. E.g. Can you convince those who sample or even read a volume on Kindle to purchase a well-made physical book to add to your collection. There is some indication that this proposition has value: the NY Times reported earlier this year that hardcover sales in 2011 actually increased (substantially — 14 per cent is the number I recall, but don’t quote me on that).
    I’m skeptical about the chances for long-term success of the strategy, at least for the high street chains — expensive real estate costs probably end up being the real killer. On the other hand, it is worth noting that the high street chain is, in itself, a relatively recent phenomenon which put a lot of general independents out of business. Yet the LRB store (and more than a score of others in a three or four block radius) continue to survive — because they have successfully identified a niche market that they serve well. I suspect that is what the long-term future of sellers of physical books looks like.
    My hypothesis is that high quality (in terms of production, as well as literary value) books will continue to be a profitable commodity. (i.e. I don’t think “willing” your Kindle to your grandchildren is likely to become a big deal, but passing on a handsome library has been for centuries and will continue to be.) Mass market, third run editions will most immediately pay the penalty — you note some types of books that don’t eread well and I would suggest that well-produced physical novels (the Folio Society is a good example) will join that list.
    Another comment raised the Penguin/Random House talks which I think is another part of the changing equation. The big houses are already feeling the pinch as the mass market for cheaply produced books shrinks and the costs of carrying inventory and a big overhead staff can no longer be met. Ironically, at the same, time on-line sales have made business much more attractive for what I call artisan publishers (such as And Other Stories or Salt in the UK; I could come up with at least 20 in Canada alone). They have a business model that makes a 1,000-volume print run viable — the problem used to be there was no way to place and sell so few books when they had to be bought at stores. Now through the on-line stores — or running their own — those publishers have a sales vehicle. And I know from experience that they are turning out volumes which I am happy to add to my library.
    All of which does suggest that the future of books is that they are not just bought to be read, but to be saved, displayed and savoured for decades, even generations. Not good news for publishers whose target customers buy a few books a year and then discard them — quite acceptable news for those of us who buy many more and expect to have them around for quite some time.

  7. Mary Gilbert

    You can’t look round someone else’s e-book library whilst they’re making you coffee and you can’t borrow or lend e-books. They don’t even belong to you. As someone who has loved books all their life and whose idea of a great day out is a trawl round second hand bookshops – I have even dreamt about browsing imagined bookshops occasionally – the new Kindle phenomenon fills me with dismay. I’m not convinced that people with electronic books actually read them much either but perhaps that’s me projecting my feelings. I accept that going on holiday with ten books on an e-book is a tad lighter than cramming them into the suitcase but the smell, the feel, the look, the chance to check out how long `til the end of the chapter by squeezing the pages, the heart beating faster as I approach Blackwells…..I can’t bear to think of that disappearing. Waterstones already looks like a branch of Paperchase. What will it look like in five years?

  8. Lorinda, I think Barnes & Noble is a pretty good comparator actually, save that in the UK it’s important to bear in mind that all the major competitor chains have gone bust. In terms of chain bookstores, it’s Waterstones. Otherwise it’s independents (and not so many of those any more), WH Smiths (a general news and book shop with sweets and drinks, particularly common at airports and stations, only carries chart titles really) or the supermarkets (only carry the very biggest bestsellers).

    What happens to Waterstones therefore has a very big impact potentially on the UK scene.

    I don’t know the Haines blog, I’ll take a look tomorrow. Thanks for the link. If he’s talking about the issue that one only licences e-content then that’s an important point. I know that and I’m fine with it, but plenty seem not to realise and that’s far from ideal.

    WG, books and readers will survive, but bookstores may not (nor libraries). There was a move with libraries for a while to make them more vibrant spaces (putting it politely) – less emphasis on books and more on internet access for the low waged and community-focused activities. That’s all good stuff, but it is critical that a quiet space for reading books is preserved. Having grown up poor myself, I’m acutely aware how important libraries were for me as a child, and it would be regrettable to put it mildly if those opportunities weren’t there for others.

    Guy, I have heard of that merger. I expect that too is a reaction to Amazon. Currently if a publisher argues with Amazon’s pricing models Amazon is quick to pull their books from sale. It might find that a less successful approach with a mega-publisher. That I suspect is a driver for the deal anyway. Sizing up to be better able to negotiate terms with the big beast that is Amazon.

    More responses later. Lee and Mary, I’ll have some thoughts on the old kindle versus books argument, and Kevin your post for which thanks will take a little while to properly respond to so I’ll return to it.

  9. termitespeaker

    Derek Haines is a self-published author whose blog The Vandal has become prominent in the self-publishing community for Haines’ gruff Aussie common sense approach (he lives in Switzerland).
    Re libraries … I’m a professional librarian (retired academic cataloguer) and so I have a big interest in keeping libraries going. I stopped working as a librarian, however, in 1978, so I never got into the computerization end of things. In the USA, both academic and public libraries do a lot with making computer access available. It’s a different world from when I worked in it, but books still reign supreme, I think. it was interesting that Smashwords recently allowed an author to set a special price for libraries to buy copies of their e-books. I took advantage of that for my own books, because I would love to see them in libraries. However, I would prefer that they bought the print editions!
    If print books and libraries did disappear, it would ultimately be the end of civilization as we know it, because someday the oil will run out and the power grid will fail, and if all our knowledge is locked up in non-functioning electronic devices, we’ll be headed back to the Dark Ages. Nobody seems concerned with this, except perhaps those of us who write future history as I do.

  10. Lee and Mary,

    I read books both in hardcopy form and in ebook form, and tend not to bother saying which is which when I review them here. I don’t find in most cases any meaningful difference between the reading experience either way, and when I was travelling around China for near three weeks on hand luggage only the kindle was an absolute must.

    The truth is most books are ultimately disposable. Who reads the popular thrillers of the 1950s? The mid-list authors of the 1930s? To an extent we do, but few others. Post-apocalyptic fiction was surprisingly popular with the Edwardians, few people are even aware that was true now let alone reading the books they wrote on the topic.

    I love books, but bestsellers sold through chain supermarkets, the Harry Potters and Dan Browns, these aren’t books to treasure and pass down to one’s children (maybe the Harry Potter’s, but I suspect they may date quite badly). The vast bulk of what’s sold is cheap mass market paperback entertainment, and I’m not knocking that as I do read some of it but equally we shouldn’t romanticise it. Tom Clancy, if he’s still popular, will go the way of Wilbur Smith (who probably still sells, but not I suspect as he once did), as will Bernard Cornwell and others like them.

    The chicklit in its pastel covers is I suspect mostly chucked (or passed on to friends) after reading(mostly, there is I suspect a strong core of serious fiction there which tends to get overlooked due to the way it’s marketed). Most SF will be forgotten within a few years of publication (only the best SF can survive its technology becoming obsolete, quaint even like the brass and wood spaceships of Verne and Wells). Some crime easily surpasses period, but again most doesn’t nor does it aim to.

    My point there isn’t that books are unjustly forgotten, because many are and that’s a great shame. It’s that many were never really meant to be remembered, they’re just entertainment, a film on the TV on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

    Lending incidentally is coming through, that’s just a technological issue. Gifting and lending ebooks will I think become increasingly common. Owning though, I’ll come back to that, to the passing of title on death.

  11. Kevin,

    I agree with your both/and analysis (I’d note by the way that the Guardian is still losing money hand over fist, but if anyone makes the transition I suspect they will, and indeed hope they will). A few hardcore techies decry what they call “dead tree” books, but most people with kindles have no ideology but merely a desire for convenience.

    The well produced book will stay with us. The Peirene Press titles, the Pushkin Press’s (which I buy in hardcopy even though there are kindle versions available for quite a bit less). I’m not surprised that hardcover sales are increasing, because the kindle or similar devices don’t really compete with the beautifully bound book with high quality paper, the well-produced physical novel as you rightly say.

    My vision of the future, which sounds similar to yours, is the ebook eating the lunch not of the Folio Society which isn’t really selling convenience but rather beauty and permanence, but rather taking out the mass paperback. It’s as I said in my reply above, cheap mass produced books do nothing that ebooks can’t do better. The ebook though is not competing with the high quality releases from small press publishers (though it does also create new routes to market for the small press also) or with the high end hardbacks. Each of Ben Lerner’s The Atocha Station and Krasznahorkai’s Satantango I read in hardback, and I have Kirsty Gunn’s The Big Music in hardback also.

    So, I agree entirely with your analysis. The rise of ebooks isn’t great for publishers aiming at the six books a year crowd. For us though, for the serious reader, the only real downside is the loss of chain bookstores. In answer to Mary’s final query, Waterstones will be more like Paperchase, and perhaps also more like Costas. The LRB though will be as it is now.

    Unfortunately, many parts of the UK don’t have their own equivalents of the LRB. For the reader who’s not in a major urban centre the choices on offer may diminish, but perhaps they already did back in the ’90s when the Net Book Agreement died, and when Waterstones bought up so many of them – the Amazon (in the UK) of its day.

  12. Lorinda, if our current civilisation does fall one of the ironies will be that whoever comes after (assuming someone does) may know more about the 1970s than the 2010s – the data will be more retrievable.

    So it goes. Our civilisation will end, either through some form of collapse and destruction or on best case through gradual replacement. All civilisations die. When it does our ebooks will likely go with it, but I think there will be a lot of physical left too.

    Perhaps if things go as I think they will our mass entertainment, stored digitally, will be lost leaving only our small imprint literary fiction, our classics and our best loved works. Future civilisations will see ours as a golden time in which nobody read anything except authors such as Proust, Henry James and John Berger. No trace will be left of the Transformers movies. We’ll be their Atlantis.

    Haines is correct that you don’t actually permanently own ebooks. You buy a licence, which can potentially be revoked (though doing so on any widepread basis would be a business-killer so I don’t see that happening). That means on death the licence lapses, and you can’t leave your children (or anyone else) your elibrary.

    Ebooks are a trade – you lose permanent ownership, there’s a marginal risk of revocation of licence (so marginal I think it can effectively be ignored), there’s a higher risk of formatting errors in my experience (though I’ve hardcopy books that could have used a hell of a lot more proofing, my Hemingway mass market paperbacks’ are shocking for bad proofing). Against all that you get convenience, ease of transport, you get to declutter your house or flat (and for most of us that’s a very real issue). You pay your money and you make your choice. The challenge to publishers is to make hardcopies more attractive than the convenience of ebooks, and the good news is that some publishers are doing just that.

  13. Just a few points I want to add to the discussion. I have a kindle and buy e-books regularly. I am a fan of vintage pulp and crime fiction, and some of the titles are either not available (other than very expensive collector copies) or are available as frail, tatty copies. This is now all changing with the kindle, and I can find many titles I wanted to read. I’m not a bookseller, and I’m sure I’d feel differently if I were, but I see the e-book as change and not a negative. For me, the kindle is a wonderful tool.

    I can (and have) lent some of my e-books, so for those who think that is a negative selling point, it is possible to lend books but the author/publisher may place restrictions on the number of times you can lend out a book.

    Thanks Kevin for that term ‘artisan’ books. I see a greater interest in these in the years to come. Pushkin Press puts out excellent books and pays attention to the aesthetics at the same time. What a concept. These are the sorts of books we want in our permanent libraries for years to come, and some publishers seem to get that.

  14. my view I earlt on had a sony e reader it broke I ve not replaced it I do have an ipad but not read many books on it so won’t be getting a kindle any time soon I love book shops and browsing especially second hand something the web can’t do those gems you just don’t know are out there that turn up second hand ,all the best stu

  15. Excellent analysis, Max but I can’t tell if you’re right.

    I used to work for a retail company which has high street real estate and an online store. The big question was: is the online store going to canibalize the shops? So far, customers do both. They buy online and still go to the brick-and-mortar shops to have advice, interact with salespeople and have help even if they have to wait more than 30 minutes.

    In any case, kindle or not in the shop alley, you can visit a bookstore, browse through books and decide to buy them online at home afterwards. The risk is already there.
    I agree with you on one thing: the ebooks may kill cheap mass paperbacks read only for entertainment. But you’ll still have a market for moments when you won’t use your ebook (beach, swimming pool and other risky places like these where people like to read) or for books you intend to lend or give. (can you imagine offering an ebook as a gift?) Do we really want to keep these books?

    I have a kindle too, I love reading on it, it’s comfortable and for me it’s easier to read in English on an ebook than on a paperback.
    But browsing on the kindle store is a nightmare. On the device in itself, either you know what you want or you’ll never have any idea of what you want because it’s impossible to browse through titles. On a computer, it’s a bit quicker, but still, I can’t say I ever discovered a book thanks to the kindle store. So far, Amazon doesn’t provide a browsing experience as good as the one in a good bookstore.

  16. Guy makes an important point, which is that with kindle books needn’t go out of print. This week I had trouble tracking down a copy of Alfred Doblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz. It’s widely seen as a classic, but even out of print copies are now hard to find. Were it on kindle it wouldn’t be an issue. Similarly, there’s a wealth of 19th Century fiction and Edwardian fiction much of which isn’t that well known and which otherwise might be very hard to find.

    Artisan books is a good term, and Pushkin are a great example. As I mention above I buy them in hardcopy even when they simultaneously publish an ebook at a much reduced price.

    Stu, I have an ipad but it’s not nearly as useful as a kindle for reading, as it’s backlit so you’re reading a screen with eyestrain and fatigue consequences after a while. The kindle uses e-ink making it like reading paper – no fatigue issue unless the book is boring.Of course it can’t compete with the charms of hunting through the second hand stacks, but that’s never been something I’ve done much of anyway so as ever it’s a question of costs and benefits. What’s a loss for one person may not be for another.

  17. Emma, I agree that browsing on the kindle is awful, which is where Waterstones have an opportunity. I also agree that high street and online can be complimentary, though as you note the risk (which is already here) is that customers use the high street store for browsing and recommendations then buy later at home. That’s why you need to work on dwell time, encourage people to buy in store by making being in store a pleasant experience (again, Waterstones’ strategy as best I can see).

    I suspect in time ebooks will fall in price such that people will use them on the beach and so on, though we’re not there yet. The preloaded £10 ereader will be with us soon I’d guess, if it’s not already somewhere on the market. Like cheap cameras, we could have disposable ereaders for holidays. Perhaps too themed ones, a Jane Austen ereader preloaded with all her novels and a copy of one of the Pride and Prejudice movies (or better yet, Clueless). Once price falls enough all sorts of things become possible.

  18. Just catching up and I missed this post of yours. If people take to Kindles they seem to use them exclusively and stop buying paper books. Its a little like mp3 downloads of music – you don’t really want to wait for a CD to arrive when you can have the whole thing on your player in a minute or two. I regret that I have been so awash with books for the last few years that I now see them as pretty ephemeral and when I’ve read them I dispose of them. I save a few but chuck out others to make space – gone are my days of dreaming of wall-to-wall bookcases – it just doesn’t appeal to me now.

    I hate the fact that I am so dependent on Amazon these days but frankly can’t be bothered to do anything about it – their shopping experience is just too straightforward and useful. Fortunately as a book blogger I get plenty of other material in padded envelopes.

    Waterstones – I haven’t even been in one for at least a year and can’t think of anything coming up that will change my behaviour. I am guilty of contributing to the wrecking of the traditional publishing industry, but on the other hand I have read several books in the last year which are e-book only which publishers have missed out on and make me grateful that self-publishers or ebook-only publishers like Blackbirde Books picked up. CDs, DVDs, printed books – I see no reason to own any of them now.

  19. I like Max’s analysis as a longtime advocate of ebooks, but also a huge fan of book cafes and the social aspects of reading. I think something more like an extended cafe or book theatre cum salon is the best way to go for all book retailers. Al least it restores something that print, virtual or real, can’t deliver. As it is, publishers on and sellers of paper are in line to be marginalized.

  20. Hi there,

    I missed these comments when I slipped a disc back in November.

    The Amazon experience is very good, I agree, and of course so are the prices by and large (in part due to not paying taxes, but that’s a topic for another day). Having had to jettison a ton of books when I moved house I had to admit that many hardcopy books also seem rather ephemeral to me. There are books I expect to keep for years, to revisit and reread, but with the best will in the world few of us I think plan to reread a high percentage of the books we buy.

    Ebooks make a long tail of books available, which some publishers are taking advantage of, but there is the problem of browsing – of discovery. It’s great that back catalogue titles (which a high street bookshop would never stock) can potentially be bought in ebook format, but discovering new books is at the same time paradoxically harder as one can’t wander among shelves. The ebook giveth and the ebook taketh away.

    Paul, I think you raise a key point, which is that to survive the physical space needs to offer something which the virtual cannot. The obvious candidate is the human element, which does take us potentially down that cafe/salon route (and I note that Peirene Press run regular literary salons to promote their books and bring their readership together). The book as commoditised object is easily digitalised, virtualised, dematerialised, but we remain stubbornly physical and as long as that’s the case there will be some things that the internet cannot provide.

  21. wa

    You could definitely see your expertise within the work you write. The arena hopes for even more passionate writers like you who aren’t afraid to mention how they believe. At all times go after your heart.

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