Despite the fact that millions of us love to avail ourselves of its services, Amazon has taken over from the supermarkets as the “number one hate figure” of the publishing and bookselling worlds, apparently responsible for the genteel but inevitable decline of the traditional book shop that we all profess to love but not enough of us support.
Maybe Amazon should make themselves more cuddly by expanding into bricks and mortar themselves. (I know there has been talk of them creating “Argos-style” pick up points for their products, but I am suggesting something with a little more vision).
If they want to become more loved by the public – and if they are sitting on piles of cash which I assume they are or so many people wouldn’t hate them as much as they do - why not open Amazon stores that are as cool and beautiful as the Apple Stores?
As well as being able to see and handle, sample and sniff the books before ordering them, customers could be immersed in the whole publishing experience. There could be authors talking from big screens or available via headphones like in the record shops some of us remember so fondly. There could be live talks going on by anyone from Jonathan Franzen to Dan Brown if the “footfall” was large enough to attract them. There could be coffee houses that Samuel Johnson would have been happy to hang out in, and reading areas where new models of Kindles can be tried out and newspapers read like in the public libraries we all want to save, (and in the more up-market coffee shops where book group denizens already meet and chat). There could be editors, designers and printers available to turn self-published e-books into beautifully printed and bound limited editions for customers to carry proudly away with them - imagine the christmas gift potential of elegantly published family histories!
The underlying elephant in the room of publishing and traditional bookselling is that there simply isn’t enough money in the business to make it viable and buzzy enough to attract the crowds, but is that true now that people buy kindles and iPads and download at the press of a button?
We need to re-invigorate the nation’s town centres and high streets and if Amazon are the people with the money should we not be looking to them to fill the empty spaces with imagination and flair? If they are moving into traditional publishing, why shouldn’t they move into traditional bookselling as well – only with some 21st century style?
Many will hate the idea of course because it is potentially brash and vulgar and might prove popular with the sort of people who do not usually grace the older style of bookshops – but aren’t they exactly the people most authors want to reach? If the concept is fantastically successful then of course that will lead to Amazon becoming even more all-powerful and rich – but who else in the words business is currently rich enough to take the chance of the whole thing being an absolute disaster?