This post was written by guest blogger Andy Fine.
John Sutherland at Guardian Unlimited is convinced that walk-in bookstores are well on their way to extinction — at least in Britain.
The book trade tends to enjoy long, stable periods of operation punctuated by seismic upheaval. The next big upheaval is imminent. Go into any high-street bookshop today and you are confronted with a dizzying profusion of wares. There are more books on display than any normal person could read in a lifetime. Where to start?
. . . .
Despite the healthy Christmas sales, the walk-in, walk-round bookstore is doomed. “Cyberglobalism” is about to happen. International copyright is already a dead letter. You want the book everyone is reading in the US? It won’t be published in the UK for months, but Amazon.com will send it to you, copyright restriction be damned.
I can’t really tell if Sutherland is more upset about Penguin’s disasterous distribution snafu or Amazon’s casual dismissal of international copyright law (not really a dead letter — just ask Bill Gates). However, he does make an interesting observation about the future viability of companies like Amazon:
After the cyberglobal dust settles it won’t be Amazon or any other of the webstores which comes out on top. Despite its web address, Jeff Bezos’s outfit functions as an old-fashioned middleman. They add a surcharge of up to 40% for “handling” the product. Web-based publishers can do that themselves, direct-delivering from their warehouse. Two things are necessary: getting their act together and a state-of-the-art mega-sized warehousing system.
I’ve often wondered why publishers don’t just eliminate web-based retailers by selling books online themselves. Web-based ordering and distribution systems are becoming increasingly automated, and the technology is getting older and more reliable. Seems to me Penguin or any other publisher could deal a quick and potentially fatal blow to Amazon’s bottom line pretty easily.
You heard it here first — sell that Amazon stock.