From Richard Lutz
I stop by my closest Waterstone’s bookshop as I pass through the Birmingham University campus. It looks strangely quiet, half abandoned and the white simple notice on the shop window spells out the bad news: it is closing.
A bookshop shutting on a university campus?
As I take it for granted that most of the students (and one or two of the academic staff) can read, it seems unimaginable that Britain’s Numero Uno bookseller is calling it a day.
I go inside. The shelves are half empty. Nothing sadder than a half empty shelf. The salesman sits behind a counter that fittingly says: ‘Register Closed.’
The real owners of Waterstones, A&NN Capital Fund Management, is reducing its shops numbers. The University bookstore is a victim.
I find it amazing, ludicrous and ultimately sad that a big lively redbrick campus such as Birmingham is going to be without a place to leaf through new titles, old titles, cook books, classics, academic tomes, trashy novels. The salesman talks hopefully of a new retailer coming in to rescue the shop. He sounds doubtful though.
One can only look towards the Amazon website for a reason for this closure. We all use the site, and despite this week’s headlines about a fall in profits (with net income for the first quarter only coming in at a measly £52m), it is a giant …and a giant predator. It will kill off the high street book dealer. And the back street dealer too for that matter.
Remember, not only does this highly successful web monster gobble up a lot of sales of new stuff, it now has the legal right to sell on second hand e-books now too.
Which means browsing through the musty fusty shops in Charing Cross Road or on Hay- on-Wye might be a bleak memory.
What we are left with are the huge Amazon books sales. And its Kindle machine that delivers instant print with a bang of a button. But even that instant e-sales has a catch. There is a furious debate who actually owns that digi-book you just purchased. Experts say you really don’t own your Kindle download. You literally rent it. The ‘buy’ button doesn’t give you anything except what one analyst says is a ‘conditional licence.’
So, where are we going with this reading caper?
This is what I see: Amazon takes over everything you can lay your eyes on. It shuts down the big chain stores, the high street shops, the mom ‘n pop bookshops. It closes out Hay-on-Wye, the small town book dealer and the supermarket bookshelves heaped high with cheap titles. It swallows everything with a page in it.
Then comes the sting in the tail: it closes out books. Why spend profilts on creating hard copies? Everything is seen through a tablet or a Kindle. Amazon’s tablet. Amazon’s Kindle. They’ll own everything you want to read. They’ll own the kiddie books you read to your two year old, the text book you need for education, the classic you want to re-read, the latest Jack Reacher thriller.
There will be no more books, just a flickering backlit page of literature that you really don’t own. Your expansion of your intellect and your imagination will be owned by Amazon. And we will rent e-books that are merely digi-twinkles in a commercial world with no shops.
Amazon will own literature, its channels of access and the pricing structure. Amazon will own us and Amazon will allow you to rent a digi book if your profile fits its policy.
And if your profile doesn’t fit, then….