Tuesday 22 May 2012

An Amazon Superstore in Every High Street - Called Waterstones

On January 30 I blogged about the possibility of "An Amazon Superstore in Every High Street", (I reproduce the text below). I can now see how it will happen, although it looks as if their stores are going to be called Waterstones, at least for a while.

"An Amazon Superstore on Every High Street": (first blogged 30/1/12)

Despite the fact that millions of us love to avail ourselves of its extremely efficient services, Amazon has taken over from the supermarkets as the “hate figure” of the publishing and bookselling world, 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 accessible and 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?

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 of today where book group denizens already meet and chat). There could be editors, designers and printers available to turn e-books into beautifully printed and bound limited editions.

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 even 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 being even more all-powerful and rich – but who else in the words business is rich enough to take the chance of the whole thing being an absolute disaster?

The Information Tsunami

An article in today’s Times attempts to create a controversy about some books being pushed into storage at the Bodleian Library, while others are being touched by students who might, (or might not), have fingers covered in burger-grease.

The paper cites the cause of the whole problem as being the £100-million which James Martin has donated to Oxford University. Apparently it is the expansion of his Oxford Martin School which has caused this domino effect amongst the archives.

It appears to be a concocted non-story but it set me thinking as to what is going to happen to the tsunami of information that is now being stored digitally as well as in print form?

We are all happily pouring out billions of e-books and self-published tomes on top of the products of the existing publishing industry, but who is actually going to have time to read all this stuff? Who is going to have time to study and catalogue it? Is it possible we are all going to drown in our own knowledge?

The Bodleian Group already cares for some 11 million items on 117 miles of shelving and Lord alone knows how many books are already resting on Amazon’s virtual shelving.

I don’t know what the solution is going to be, but I am quite sure that no blame should lie with James Martin and his extraordinary generosity in the cause of studying the things that matter for our future, although of course the Oxford Martin School will undoubtedly be contributing its fair share to the future knowledge tsunami - and so the wave continues to grow higher.

Wednesday 2 May 2012

Exploring Wattpad's Library

Exploring a little further on the Wattpad campus, (see yesterday’s blog), like some wide-eyed Hogwarts newbie, I came across their library of classics, (supplied, I believe, by The Gutenberg Project). I have now spent an entire afternoon wandering around the virtual shelves picking up and dusting off books, some of which, like The Secret Garden, I probably haven’t read for half a century. From Jeeves to Tarzan, Darwin to Beowulf, it was like stepping back into my grandfather’s library and letting Serendipity be my guide. Was there ever a more glorious way to while away a rainy afternoon?

Tuesday 1 May 2012

Could Wattpad be the Greatest University of Writing Ever?

As well as being a showcase for indie books, could http://www.wattpad.com/ be the greatest University of Writing ever?

The site is designed to be a sort of YouTube for authors, a glorious, great, free bookstore in the sky, but it seems to me that it could be providing something else even more important than that.

Anyone can put their writings up there and anyone can read them. The books tend to go up one chapter at a time and some of them are read by millions – literally – mainly on phones and other mobile devices. Wandering around this campus in the clouds it is obvious that the majority of participants are young adults, with the odd greybeard amongst them. Millions of young people writing and reading; dispelling the fears of all those Jobs prophesising the death of the written word.

Readers leave comments, just like on YouTube, and the tone seems to be almost uniformly positive and encouraging, like a giant, friendly, creative writing group.

This is a campus filled with enthusiasts for the written word, potentially every English-speaking person in the world who wants to read stories and all those who want to write them, brought together in one place. How brilliant is that?

The books are divided into categories, with genres like romance, fantasy, historical fiction and science fiction receive the most attention, just like in any earthly bookstore. There are also some very useful texts on how to write, (the equivalent of lectures and seminarsif this analogy can be stretched a little further).

The Wattpad people single out the odd book to be “featured”, which is a bit like having your book put on the front table at Waterstones, but apart from that everyone seems to be equal, distinguished only by the number of readers their work has attracted.

Could this be a rather cheery glimpse into the future of books and reading?