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The Kindle threat

I started as a Luddite, then I became a Kindle convert, now I’m a Luddite again. Kindle has everything going for it. The device is light, it’s a library in your pocket, and it offers a new reading experience, for ageing eyes in particular. On top of that it has built in a new and massively impressive shopping facility . . . and that’s why it’s very dangerous.

I’m a book-man, all round. I write them, I’m a reader, and to an extent I’m a collector. I like and admire booksellers. I’ve been in book stores in eight countries and four continents, and they all have one thing in common. People work there for love, not money.

The returns for independent proprietors have never been brilliant, and in recent years they’ve come under even heavier pressure, from the fall-out from discounting wars between major book chains and supermarkets, and also from the ubiquitous, pervasive and all too often wholly irresponsible charity shops that are blooming like mushrooms, particularly in Britain.

As for the big book players, shop floor wages are notoriously low, while management expectation can be unreasonably high, especially where re-stocking, display, and the number of tea-bags allowed in the staff-room is tightly controlled from the centre. Yet sensible adults choose to work there, from a sense of pure vocation. They all deserve our support. The last thing either sector needs is for e-readers to take off; that would push many over the edge.

Obviously, I don’t disapprove of internet trading, per se. For some, for example, the house-bound and the geographically disadvantaged, they’re a Godsend. Also, I’d rather people bought books from Amazon than Tesco. But I will always want them to be able go to Simon Kesley, in Haddington, to Sleuths, and Ben McNally, in Toronto, to the new Edinburgh Book Shop in Bruntsfield, to Mysterious Books in New York, and to hundreds like them around the English Speaking world. (Other tongues can fight their own battles.) God help me I’ll even always want them to go to Waterstone, Barnes & Noble and Chapters-Indigo.

I fear for their future, for all of them, in the face of the new Kindle onslaught; for be aware, Kindle is a software based device and that software is available for free download and use on PC, Mac, lap-top, tablet and even iPhone. (Now I’ve told you that I’ll have to kill you.) The threat is real, and traditional booksellers have few defences; only two that I can see.

One, there will always be people like me, who believe that to ripple the pages of a printed book is a special experience, one that through the centuries has taken millions from the darkness into the light.

Two? You can’t have your Kindle signed by the author.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Marg O'Neill
    October 2, 2010 at 8:40 am

    Dear Mr J,
    I’ve finished Oz and am well underway with Skinner- bloody fantastic!!. Yes the Kindle sounds wonderful but there’s something about a book as you say- I hope they never go out of fashion. I remember being a kid-(many years ago)- with a torch and an Enid Blyton book under the bedclothes after “lights out!!!!!’
    Kind regards,
    Vic. Aus.

    • October 2, 2010 at 9:12 am

      Ah, the secret shame of being an Enid Blyton reader!

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