Monday, October 16, 2006

The future's lookin' good

Bryan Appleyard has written a piece on the future of publishing and bookshops. We've been having very similar thoughts here for a while now. Our basement is the perfect size for a print on demand machine which would mean stock holding wouldn't be a problem. Every book ever published would effectively be In Print and available at Crockatt & Powell. Exciting, huh?

I disagree with Appleyard in one area. There will still be a demand for beautifully produced editions and art books amongst others that conveniently our shop is the perfect size and style to sell. And there will still be a demand for some casual browsing of carefully chosen titles. Again, i think we've got that area covered too.

I do wonder how the 20,000 sq ft book retailers are going to fare but here at C&P we can't wait.


  1. Adam

    I thought that the Appleyard article was the biggest heap of pretentious shite that I have read in many months.

    Bryan Appleyard admits that he has long ago stopped visiting terrestial bookshops, therefore he cannot speak with any authority about the quality (or indeed the lack of it) in many high street shops. His sentiments are typical window shopper comments from a disgruntled scribe.

  2. Kid's picture books too.

    And I'm sure I'm not the only bookshop currently being deluged with mad authors promoting their self-published shite.

  3. Adam: Glad to hear that you are getting on this.

    Clive & Jonathan: I'm sorry to hear that you are "being deluged with mad authors promoting their self-published shite." But it just so happens that not all POD is shit.

    Not only did Powell's City of Books (Portland, Oregon) decide to stock my self-published book, THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH, they also let me do a reading at their central location. And all of this was made possible because the people who create the atmosphere of Powell's aren't completely strangled by some corporate policy preventing them from having any say in which books to carry.

    Now, if I were to peruse your bookstores, stocked with all the usual Brand Name titles, I take it I might find some shit there as well. Or maybe not, since my book isn't on the shelf.

  4. Pity that those who are appending themselves to the coat-tails of broad sheet pages don't take the trouble to read why bookdealer's like myself are less than pleased with the shite scripted by Bryan Appleyard in yesterday's ST

    Anybody who follows last week's trade talk read ongoing reviews about the Sony reader, and comments from Anirvan Chatterjee on the Bookfinder Journal re POD and longtail : stir it up in the manner of Ainsley Harriott (sorry mate, for you are a better chef than Appleyard is a scribe), add a seasoning of Bryan Appleyard's prejudices against terrestial bookshops and there is a rather pretentious plate of piffle.

    Snips from Appleyard prejudice
    >> I, along with almost everybody I know, stopped buying in bookshops years ago. Why bother?<<

    >>Yet in spite of my best efforts, over the past decade, power in the book industry has drained away from publishers to the bookshops.<<

    >>Look at a shelf full of cans of beans, any one will do; look at a shelf of books, only one will do. Amazon expanded into second-hand books and, together with companies such as AbeBooks, this effectively meant that just about every book in the world could be bought online.

    Infuriatingly, however, this did not destroy the bookshops.<<

    There are hundreds and hundreds of very good bookshops in this country : we work our butt off to give a loyal, yet critical, customer base a quality selection of decent reading material.

    All stock in my own business is only taken firm sale : that's my money behind the product. I have a sound working relationship with both publishers and wholesalers, we are complimentary to one another.

    If I make too many wrong choices in title selection then I would end up bankrupt.

    I get sick to the back teeth when reading shite by journalists who have their own agenda and appear determined to damage the prospects of the terrestial bookshops.

    Enough said.

  5. Clive,

    I know Appleyard makes some stupid comments the type of which men of a certain age tend to dribble on about but i think you're letting these get in the way of his main point - print on demand technology gives more power to readers, publishers and discerning bookshops like ours.

    With POD all your stock is firm sale. You can 'stock' every title ever published.

    There are machines out there that can print, cut and bind a pb in a minute. Of course they are hugely expensive! But as everything, technology advances and costs come down.

    The only people to miss out here would be warehousing and distribution services but I know I didn't get in to the book trade to keep TBS in custom.

  6. Adam

    The current POD machinery is nowhere near state of the art, it is clunky and inefficient.

    I have spent long enough researching the concept to know that it will not be viable in my lifetime to have a POD machine installed in a bookshop.

    Jeezh, Bertram's don't even do in-house POD yet they have recently invested a colossal sum in an automated machine to pick and pack books.

    Amazon POD is often a joke with very lengthy time-lags between ordering and supply.

    Do a little research on the enormous sums of money which have been invested in state of the art printing works in China for the mega-corporates.

  7. Appleyard is probably half right - at some point in the future (though I doubt it'll be in 5 years) the technology will exist so sellers can just print off individual copies of books for buyers without pubishers having to go to the trouble of printing thousands in advance, and that's a good thing (cuts down on waste for one thing - no more Red Box Consignment For Destruction.) But I think people will still want to browse and you can't do that adequately online - can't pick up a book, feel the weight, the paper, flick through in that very varied way people do (some always read the last page - lunatics! Sorry, but it is weird.) I think the bookshop can survive, with display copies on the shelves for people to look at, and then you print them off one when they want to buy. So not all that different to what you have now. Of course, when the technology gets cheap enough so people can print them off at home it's going to get trickier...

  8. A lifetime will take you from the kitty hawk to Apollo 11 so I don't think the advance of technology is the issue here.

    Vested interests is what would stop the technology and the huge publishers insistence on controlling the means of distribution. Very few publishers seem to be grappling with the potential the internet provides as a means of distribution.

  9. Or if they are they are keeping it too themselves.

  10. explain exactly what you mean in detail about publishers 'grapling with the internet as a means of distribution.'
    I sell through amazon and I sell through my own websites.
    As well, of course, as through all the usual terrestrial channels like yours.
    What else is there for me to do ?
    (This is a serious question..)

  11. Selling through Amazon is crude. So is selling through a website.

    Amazon or a website such as our shopping site or your website is simply a way of removing the barrier between the consumer and the supplier. Rather than having a shop order the books the consumer can order them themselves.

    But there is still the whole issue of supply, guessing print runs, getting the books from a publisher to a warehouse, packing them, posting them out etc.

    (It's like the difference between ordering from HMV and getting a CD in the post or downloading a track from I-Tunes)

    At present the winner is the person with access to the largest warehouse.

    What we envisage is a world where all books are digitally available. The internet has the power to completely remove the barrier between a person and the book they want to read. In a matter of moments the content can be transitted from publisher (who retains copyright) to an authorised agent (the bookshop) where a physical copy can be printed.

    Publishers need to do all they can to make this dream a reality. If they don't do it then others (pirates) will.

    The environmental benefits are in themselves huge. No more pulping books. No more warehouses full of books spoiling the countryside. No more vans driving them round the country then back again as returns. No more wasteful packaging.

    PS If there is a POD company out there looking for a bookshop to test their product in a real world situation please get in touch!

  12. BTW Amazon and Bertrams have absolutely nothing to gain from POD.

    It would put them out of business!

  13. Matthew,

    I'd love to be a fly on the wall if you should ever be invited to inspect a POD machine : not the Xpresso, but one of the real beasts.

    Sweet dreams, it could well turn into a nightmare !!

  14. Clive - I look forward to inspecting a POD machine...

    We have a huge cellar beneath the shop.

    Even if they are crap now the point is that it won't stay that way.

    I am convinced POD will be an important tool for booksellers in MY lifetime.

  15. In fact, if we do have a meeting with a POD machine I'll set up a webcam and you can all watch!

    It might be crap but I say again, if there are people out there with machinery they think could work in a bookshop now then give us a call...

  16. The bigger the better! Bring it on!

    However, there is still the small issue of content...

    We need publishers to digitise and license their stuff before we can actually do what we're saying.

    Otherwise, we might just as well call ourselves House of Stratus and be done with it.