The foolishness of not buying from Amazon

Thanks to the magic of Twitter, I stumbled on this recording from BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this afternoon:

Arts Correspondent Will Gompertz talks to Penguin’s John Makinson, The Bookseller’s Neill Denny and blogger Adrian Hon about the impact of digitisation on books and publishing.  It’s an interesting listen, but the element that has stuck with me is the vox pop half way through, wherein we hear from a Foyle’s customer, interviewed on the Charing Cross Road pavement.

To paraphrase, she says that she was passing Foyle’s, and loves it, but normally of course she’d buy her books on Amazon, because of the price saving.  This is very matter of fact; Amazon and the bookshop are no longer occupying the same mental space for this consumer.  Amazon is the obvious, default place to buy a book – indeed, it’s almost perverse to go into a bookshop, but an occasional mad fling is OK.  Thus the bookshop moves from an inclusive place for everyone who enjoys browsing and buying books, to the equivalent of an expensive boutique, or fancy cake shop- maybe you’ll go in there for a guilty indulgence, but it doesn’t make financial or any other kind of sense to visit too often.  (And of course, she isn’t shopping at “an online bookshop”, she’s shopping at what might as well be  “the only online bookshop”.)

I may be extrapolating a little too much from a snatched moment on-mike, but those who consume books, rather than fetishising bookshops, are likely to be thinking more and more in this way.

Which in turn supports the appearance of the Assouline shop inside Liberty on Great Marlborough Street.  Like all department stores, Liberty used to have an eclectic book department which reflected its clientèle and their interests.  There are still some gift books on tables here and there elsewhere in the store, but Assouline provides the mad fling or naughty treat – with prices from around £20 to hundreds of pounds.  I like the Assouline offer, and I thought their second-hand section (branded “Vintage”, like a classic Yves St Laurent frock, and priced accordingly) was very cleverly done.  But Liberty customers, like the woman outside Foyle’s, will get their bread-and-butter books (physical or digital) from Amazon.  The book as a collectible or an extravagance, rather than a staple, moves another step closer.

Assouline photo:


3 Comments on “The foolishness of not buying from Amazon”

  1. Interesting thought, and explains the difference between Amazon and bookshops nicely. I have to admit that I buy from Amazon most of the time, and for precisely that reason. And this is one of the reasons that I like ebooks – I can (and do) buy from other places. Although this is admittedly partly because I don’t and won’t use Kindle; Amazon has too much power already!

  2. Jo Tallis says:

    That’s exactly how I view Amazon and the local Waterstones. I wouldn’t dream of buying a book in the latter any more – I can wait a couple of days for the item itself, and actually the buzz of buying is secondary to the delicious thought of “pressies coming in the post”. I still wander into a physical store to check out stuff that needs seeing in the flesh, such as a design or photography book, but I’ll always jot down a title and order it when I’m home.

    And yes, I know this is not good for bricks & mortar stores. Now, is anyone at the big publishers working with local stores to bring book prices down and attract people like me back? Or are all those massive fancy corporate headquarters and champagne-fuelled parties just too expensive to allow for prices to be cut, even to save the industry?

  3. barbyoung says:

    I’m not sure how it is in the UK, but here in the US I don’t even buy books from anymore. I download them directly to my iPad (substitute any other e-reading device) from my public library via Overdrive Media Console and have three weeks to read a book. It’s free if you have a library card. Buying books is an extravagance.