Saturday, November 11, 2006

Brave New World

I went along to a presentation of the Booksellers Association report Brave New World that was to look into the impact of digitisation on the UK book market.

I turned up, ate a load of canapes but declined the wine having already visited a rather good pub.

A room full of suits and plenty of blah and jargon later I felt very much none the wiser. However having read the report I was enlightened a little.

We already have a blog (obviously) and an internet shop, though sales through the net have been disappointing so far. I think Amazon have things fairly well sewn up in that department. We plan to archive our events as podcasts on our website soon and also want to set up a forum where people can debate the merits of books they have read. We use the internet all the time. Customers can e-mail us and expect a personal response within minutes, something the large chains and Amazon's robots can never offer. The most interesting aspect of the report was that they highlighted the importance of "owning the transaction". As a small bookshop we are able to respond to the needs of a local market and our customers in a way that bigger players would love to be able to. You get a lot more than "have a nice day" from Crockatt & Powell. This is something that publishers should value as our customers certainly do - they wouldn't shop here if they didn't. We see ourselves as a filter, a shop that helps people to cut the crap and find the great books they really want to read.

What really excites us at Crockatt & Powell are the new technologies that will soon make Print on Demand a realistic option for small retailers. One aspect that the report fails to address completely is the environmental benefits of POD. No more returns, no wasted paper or books being driven/shipped all over the world. POD would save the industry vast sums of money very quickly. We believe it is only a metter of time before it arrives.

I thought the report was rather too concerned with E-Books and an I-Pod for books. We are of the opinion that E-Books will always be of minority interest for students and geeks. Real, printed books have a beutiful simplicity that is impossible to replace entirely.

So there we go. They said a bookshop like ours would never work, that we would go under in a month. They were wrong. Now people laugh when we talk about publishing books ourselves. And we are going to do it. Our first title will be published next year...

The digital future is coming and we are going to be there.

I will go out on a limb and say it is Amazon and the large chains that have most to fear from a digital future...(Yes Amazon!)


  1. Do you have a concept of how this is going to work with your print on demand business? Will you have a series of books in a computer archive that readers can order (have printed)? Can anyone put a book on your list?

  2. fHi Lia

    The idea is that books are digitised (the text, pics etc made available as a file that can be downloaded via the internet)

    We download the file onto a machine and then print off a physical book.

    So far Project Gutenberg have digitised 19,000 books. These are all out of copyright and can be downloaded for free now. Trouble is you have to read them off a computer or print them off - lots of loose sheets of paper.

    More recent books are also being digitised at an ever increasing rate as we speak. Publishers are concerned about protection of copyright (quite rightly) but it is only a matter of time before pretty much every book produced is digitised.

    In the future we would have a machine in the shop but at present they are very expensive. Mass production should bring the cost down. There are already a couple of places in the US trying this out.

    For now we will use the text downloaded from Gutenberg, type set it, design a cover and print copies with a printer that specialises in very short runs. Their machine is the first of its kind in the UK and makes runs of 500 copies and below cost effective...

    Watch this space for further developments!

  3. What really excites us about POD is that we would be able to break free of the limits to what we can stock that are imposed by space - we can only fit a limited number of books onto the shelves.

    We would be able to offer every title that was digitally available meaning our "stock" would be massive. This is also where I see Amazon getting into trouble. At present they are just a big warehouse with people placing orders via the net. What peolpe like about Amazon is the sense (illusory very often) that ANYTHING is available.

    POD would give the same power to a tiny shop like ours!

  4. This can only be good news indeed - great to hear, and thanks for keeping us updated!

    Anne Brooke

  5. Its dangerous spending too much time with "the suits" and can lead to either acute depression or a touch of the wally's.

    POD will come....agreed ; however, there are so many rich opportunities to be exploited at this time that I would rather keep my eyes on the ball and leave the soothsaying to others.

    Will you be opening on Sundays for the seasonal trade ?

  6. It's sunday and I'm here. Trouble is there are no customers. This street really is dead as a dodo on a sunday.

    In fact I'm about to bunk off. I'm putting the finishing touches to our christmas mail out and it's very hard to do by dialling into my computer at home. There is a small delay in all mouse movements so when I'm trying to accurately place a pic in photoshop much frustration ensues. Deadline is tomorrow. Arse.

  7. Doesn't Amazon already do POD?

  8. Amazon of course does do POD, mostly via Lightning Source.

    Many publishers, especially academic ones, also offer a back catalogue in POD.

  9. Clive and Anon are right. But I would say that the important part of Matthew's point is that it is the physical shop itself and the knowledge of the booksellers that will keep the customers coming.

    Personally I'd rather not mention Amazon as they are taking care of themselves and I think they'll do just fine. They announced last week that they are going to start 'renting' room on their servers and processors because they have developed so much computing power which Amazon itself only uses 10% of. If anything I can almost see some kind of link up between independents and Amazon where they are just a service provider and we do the customer stuff.

  10. Adam

    Amazon are a parasite ; they earn most of their revenue from being a portal to third parties.

    Unfortunately, they are very efficient for publishers to service and courtesy of third party revenue are able to predatory price new books.

    With viable quality POD very much in its infancy I am more concerned to ensure that my business takes up the slack from little W going so rapidly downmarket and trying to compete with Tesco and Amazon.

    After closing time yesterday (Sunday), when I had the door open to "air" the shop, a new customer came along purchased 5 nice books. That customer enjoyed the opportunity to handle and browse the books : had not the slightest interest in purchasing from a catalogue.

    POD is all very well when a customer knows exactly what they want : if they don't - and this would apply to most of my customers - they enjoy the browsing experience, handling books, checking out quality of printing - even the binding.

    Look at most titles by publishers like Frances Lincoln and tell me how the fuck they are going to be available as POD within my trading lifetime.

  11. Clive,

    I don't really disagree with anything you've just said. We've just taken a T&H book called After the Flood that would be just impossible to POD.

    POD interests me if the quality is good enough to print off 4-5 copies of a book to stick on our table - it's your old bee in the bonnet, 'FIRM SALE'!

    And I still see Amazon going more down the Google, Yahoo route as a network and search provider while trying to retain internet sales. They are indeed bastards but it's like the old joke says, What do you call a Gorilla with a machine gun?