Showrooming - it's official

Posted by Guy Pringle, 5th December 2011

Both reading groups are fed up with me going on about supporting our local Waterstone’s by buying from them at least some of the books we read. I’ve declared previously that I’ve acquired a Kindle so obviously I’m not following my own advice entirely. However, I’d like to think I’m not a complete hypocrite - I do go in and buy books that I could probably blag off the publisher, given the job I do.


But today, according to the New York Times, it’s official. Not part of my usual reading it has to be said, but in the daily book trade email I receive is mention of ‘showrooming’.


American booksellers – not quantified but enough to be more than anecdotal – have spotted furtive activity among the bookshelves. Nothing too lurid, you understand, just people who’ve been happily browsing suddenly tapping away into their mobile phone. The inescapable conclusion is that, having been able to handle the goods and decide they really want to read it, the bookshop has served its purpose and they’re now placing their order on line.


Obviously, in the current climate we’re all careful in our spending but if you stand in front of one set of bookshelves in your local bookshop, count the number of paperbacks thereon and multiply by £4 that’s probably very close to how much money is locked up in that metre wide bay. Now scan the shop and count up the number of bays – the maths is inescapable.


And if they don’t sell enough of those books in the next 3 weeks then 2012 is going to be even tougher. By next Christmas there might not be a showroom to visit.


Elsewhere in the same e-newsletter is mention of an interview in The Independent with James Daunt. As the comparatively new MD of Waterstone’s and the previous begetter of six eponymous London bookshops, he outlines his philosophy of bookselling, not hiding from the challenge he faces.


Among much common sense, The Independent records, ‘Daunt makes no bones about his dislike of Amazon. "They never struck me as being a sort of business in the consumer's interest. They're a ruthless, money-making devil." He dreads the physical bookshop disappearing altogether in the digital tsunami.’ Quite.


As a counter to all this gloom, can I commend to you One Tree Books in Petersfield, Hampshire. Owned and run by Tim O’Kelly with several friendly and helpful staff this is the bookshop you’d like in your town, complete with coffee shop where author events are regularly staged. Although lacking the premium High Street location – a former Ottakar’s now Waterstone’s has that advantage – it is obviously much frequented and loved by the locals.


Surviving is a struggle – buying the lease of the building 10 years or so ago has been his master stroke – but I’d put money on him still being there at Christmas 2012. My only guilt from a recent visit was that I didn’t buy a book from them while I was there. Doh!




Daphne Poupart said...

Heard an item on Radio 4 yesterday on just this subject. A journalist & an independent bookseller were in conversation. The journalist admitted she looked at a book in the bookshop to decide if it was what she wanted, didn't use her mobile but did go home & order it on Amazon. She felt quite guilty about this, but put it down to her parsimonious nature! The bookseller was deeply reproachful and explained that if we all did this there wouldn't be any bookshops left.

Since I get most of my books from the library (says she smugly), I haven't done much of this, but if it's a book the bookshop doesn't have, rather than wait for them to order, I know that Amazon will send it quickly and cheaply. So I guess I'm just as guilty when it comes to it!

Posted on Tue 06 Dec 2011 @ 11:05

Marjorie Neilson said...

Of course people will go into stores (not just booksellers) to look at products, and then see if they can get them cheaper on-line and why not - it's called market forces. However, most of the high street retailers also have websites so what's their grumble.

As an aside, the following article by Michael Kozlowski on (no www) statThe European Commission has formally launched their official investigation against Apple and various book publishers. Hachette Livre , Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster, Penguin and Verlagsgrupp are accused of price fixing ebooks via a cartel, which is illegal in Europe.

The European Commission starting today is investigating the fact that Apple and its iBookstore formed a shady collusion with major publishers to undermine Amazon and its undercutting of the market. The Commission has concerns, that these practices may breach EU antitrust rules that prohibit cartels and restrictive business practices (Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union – TFEU). Article 101 of the TFEU prohibits agreements and concerted practices which may affect trade and prevent or restrict competition. The implementation of this provision is defined in the Antitrust Regulation (Council Regulation No 1/2003) which can be applied by the Commission and by the national competition authorities of EU Member States.

So perhaps the cost of on-line books may, in future, not be such an attractive proposition as going into the bookstore, considering VAT is added to downloaded books but not to printed versions.

The agency model originated in Europe and eliminates bookstores from setting their own prices. Publishers determine the average list price of books and online ebook stores cannot sell the books for less than that. On average digital retailers are then paid a commission of around 30% on all books sold.

Posted on Tue 06 Dec 2011 @ 17:50

Guy Pringle said...

Mmmmm, if I understand you correctly, Marjorie, seems a bit 'cutting off nose to spite face'? If Amazon took their place on the High Street that might go some way to balancing the equation but apart from a pop-up shop, I believe, in New York – and only in the run up to Christmas - there are no signs of that.
Perhaps there's a grand plan? Once world domination of the internet is theirs, Amazon will out retail park the retail parks by having even bigger 'out of town sheds'?
America’s big enough to accommodate that – not sure here in the UK we can, even if we wanted to. And personally I still prefer popping into places like One Tree Books.

Posted on Wed 07 Dec 2011 @ 11:00

Marjorie Neilson said...

Hi Guy. Great, an on line debate - love it. I suspect that in the not too distant future, Amazon will find themselves in the American courts the same as Microsoft did. I too love to pop into bookshops and browse, but, like you, I have a Kindle and download if the book is cheaper than in the published form. Amazon are opening a distribution warehouse not far away from me but, as yet, no pop up store, that would incur more overheads and they are about maximum profit for minimum layout. Tesco is a retailer who has gone in several directions - out of town, little outlets in cities, on line, home delivery. It's a symptom of our times I am afraid, and some would say that gives the customer more choice, even, at the loss of personal service and social integration, or the death of the High Street. Who knows what the future of shopping will be like?

Posted on Wed 07 Dec 2011 @ 21:00

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