Tuesday, 16 August 2011

The Kindle Dilemma...

Many SMU bloggers have joined me in praising the new reading experience which Kindle offers. However, have we stopped to consider the likely impact this will have on the future of the good old high street bookseller?

I can't remember when I last bought from Waterstones. I used to spend a fortune there. I visit the Cardiff branch at least once a week. Yet, I'm ashamed to say I use my visits to choose the books I eventually by from Amazon. Does this sound familiar?

Last week, the entire Waterstones fiction stock was included in their 3 for 2 offer. I was in a righteous mood and determined to make a purchase. However, they didn't have the titles I wanted. Instead, I whipped out my Kindle, had a fnatastic time surfing the more extensively stocked Kindle store and snapped-up 3 more downloads. Even better value than 3 for 2!

It pricks my conscience that as a new Kindle devotee I am further helping Amazon increase its iron grip on the book market. Bookshops are likely to suffer in the long term. And I would hate not to have a well stocked bookshop for browsing.

So, is Kindle bringing us closer to that dreadful scenario - the bookshop-free high street? Borders has disappeared and if Waterstones foundered, we'd be left with just WH Smith. Perhaps I should take an ethical approach and split my purchases evenly between Kindle ebooks and print copies bought in a bookshop? Realisitically, it boils down to the fact that I'm not prepared to pay the higher prices levied by bookstores. I am not alone. Many would mourn the demise of the high street bookseller, but in the interest of their pockets are exclusively patronising online suppliers.

To safeguard their future, bookshops need to change, though I'm not sure how. Some bookshops already sell ereaders. Should they have instore download stations for purchasing ebooks? But then, why would you bother going into a bookshop to buy downloads when you can do this at home or on the move with the new Kindle 3G?

The 'book' will survive but I am not so confident about the longevity of the non-virtual bookseller. If Kindle changes the nature of book retailing, I'm not convinced this will be for the better. I certainly feel uneasy about contributing to this trend. Sadly, I know I will not be changing my behaviour. I will continue to buy my books online and most of these will now be Kindle formats. I also know that in doing so I may well be shooting myself in the foot. How do other blog readers stand on this issue? Over to you...

I'm going to sign off now. Thanks to my ex-colleagues at SMU for inviting me to contribute to their excellent blog and thanks for all the interesting responses. Happy Kindling!!

Nigel Morgan


  1. I am also a culprit of 'windowshopping' with regards to high street booksellers. If i'm buying something for myself i'll always usually resort to the cheaper online seller such as Amazon, although if i'm buying a present for someone else I usually like to 'see' what i'm getting and am more inclined to buy from a high street bookshop.

    I have to agree that, sadly, I think the non-virtual bookseller's demise is inevitable...and as a librarian it fills me with a degree of panic - will people come to regard libraries in the same way?

    A rather timely article appeared in the Metro newspaper yesterday which saddened me, and also demonstrates your point:

    "The bookshop founded by the real-life Christopher Robin from the Winnie The Pooh stories is closing. The owners of the Harbour Bookshop - opened in 1951 by Christopher Robin Milne, the son of Pooh author AA Milne - claimed competition from supermarkets and internet sellers has forced them to shut down next month. Publisher Richard Webb, who worked for Christopher Milne in the shop in Dartmouth, called it 'the friendliest I have ever known'"

  2. David Charles Williams18 August 2011 at 08:25

    I buy books every month but never at full-price. There are so many charity shops around where you can buy books for as little as 0.99p. It is amazing the number of hidden gems you can find as long as you keep on searching the shelves.

    The demise of the bookshop will probably not happen overnight because the Kindle revolution could lead to an increase in the market for second-hand bookshops. Hay-on-Wye will probably never be replicated in Swansea but you cannot replace the look and feel of a real book.

    Kindle is a great idea for people on the move or on holiday where you do not want to carry more than a couple of paperbacks. However, there is nothing more satisfying than having a couple of bookcases at home filled to the rafters with books on your favourite subjects. If you are doing research you can have as many books on your desk as you want and flick through them when making notes. This would ironically be slower with a digital book.

    Books create a tactile, personal relationship. Kindle seems cold and clinical. In a similar way, the experience of playing a CD is vastly inferior to petting a LP on the music centre. A bit like the Japanese tea ceremony- you have the wonderfully creative artwork of the LP cover, the liner notes on the band, the almost seductive removal of the record from its cover, the dusting away of the static with a special brush, the meticulous placement of the LP on the turntable, the positioning of the stylus etc…

    Digital experiences bypass the sensual pleasure of analogue experiences.

  3. Do we mourn the lack of cave painters and fireside storytellers? Have we shed tears for the lost art of the Monk and his Illuminated scripts? Did we revolt when electronic printers replaced movable lead type? Technology Changes and it changes everything.
    Do we really want to blame the Kindle (or Amazon) for the demise of the high street bookshop? The high street itself is failing everywhere; there are regular news reports of dropping sales and chain store closures.
    It is OUR buyer behaviour that is at fault, our desire for an easier, more convenient life. Supermarkets put an end to local grocers offering all our foodstuffs in the same place, reachable by car with FREE parking, and then they opened overnight and even Delivered! The eBook (and ALL its various readers) are ringing a death knell for bookshops but it is we, the readers that have our hands on the bell rope and we’ve been pulling it for some time.
    EBooks (so Wikipedia informs me) first appeared in 1971 from Project Gutenberg, (but they don’t list which book first) and have been available to read on computers of one sort or another since then. I know I have been reading books on computers since I bought my first PC (let’s say 1990) and I am only a recent adopter of the Kindle (April this year); and there are many other portable devices now which perform the same function (if not as well imho) including mobile phones.
    Our behaviours change as our culture and exteligence changes, often market driven (By marketers and advertisers in the main) but it is Users who support the market and create demand (usually) and what we have demanded is ease of access and lower costs.
    Many Authors have embraced, even welcomed the change in technology with Stephen King publishing an electronic format only book in 2000 ("Riding the Bullet") and others such as Cory Doctorow and Peter Watts making their work available as printed and FREE Electronic works simultaneously. Jim Munroe who has also been giving away his electronic published work since 2000 maintains a web site encouraging and instructing others how to do the same (NoMediaKings.com) and one of 2010’s Highest Selling books on Amazon “Machine of Death” was subsequently released as a FREE download by its Authors (David Malki et al.). Electronic books and the internet as a distribution media allow anyone to become an author, writing their own material and simply publishing to a web site or blog (or Even Amazon) to sell or freely distribute that work to a larger audience, without trying to find a physical publisher willing to take risk on a new face or having to Pay for “Vanity Publishing”; allowing us, the Readers, to enjoy a greater variety of authors than ever before.
    Our desires change, as well as our desire for how we receive them, and as we become more lazy and reluctant to spend more of our hard earned than we want to on those desired things then the Internet market that makes shopping for products and services so easy will continue to grow to the detriment of physical shopping centres. The way we read is changing too and with the many portable readers available and the many authors providing material for them at discounted prices and for free will mean further growth in this market and a new culture of Readers (the people who use them).
    I enjoy holding a book as much as anyone and there are Authors whose work I will continue to pay overcharged prices for (i.e. T. Pratchett), to burden my overfilled bookshelves and reduce the living room available in my home; but I will now CHOOSE to pay less, have my book NOW, and read it wherever I want, in a text size of my choice, and never, ever lose a page again (amen). And if that means losing a high street shop, well it’s a price I am prepared to pay.

  4. Ebook Inventor Dies:
    Michael Hart, who founded Project Gutenberg in 1971, died this week.
    Michael Stern Hart was born in Tacoma, Washington on March 8, 1947. He died on September 6, 2011 in his home in Urbana, Illinois, at the age of 64. His is survived by his mother, Alice, and brother, Bennett. Michael was an Eagle Scout (Urbana Troop 6 and Explorer Post 12), and served in the Army in Korea during the Vietnam era.
    Hart was best known for his 1971 invention of electronic books, or eBooks.
    Abridged/copied from BoingBoing.net