Amazon indomitable?

A quickfire post. I spent an hour yesterday at a literary festival session entitled ‘Are we the last real book readers?’. One of the contributors asked: ‘Have you ever read so much about reading?’. Quite.

Now here’s some more. Rightly the sites following the progress of the book industry are alight with the news of the US Department of Justice investigation into price fixing through the agency agreements. Good articles here at Paid Content and here at the Atlantic.

I need a little more time to think about this, but my feeling is that this is not a simple choice between price fixing or free markets. This is a matter of an entire book ecosystem that is far more fragile than we may realise even now.

But it would seem that not everyone goes along with the genius of Amazon’s business model. An interesting contra take from @firstadopter who questions the underpinning financial model of their shipping business and their digital positioning. I seem to remember that Jason Epstein in his The Book Business raised questions as to the viability of the maths of mail order bookselling. I must dig it out and see if it corresponds to @firstadopter’s critique. The article is worth reading and checking. given the amount of resource it must have required to penetrate the market thus far, it is not inconceivable that Amazon might overeach. To be watched.

I do agree with @firstadopter’s views on the Kindle Fire and ereaders in general. I’d like a dedicated ereader, but I don’t need one. I’m sure its a better reading experience but the iPad is a more than good enough reader (as is my phone) and it does way more. If I’m slimming down my life for convenience why do I need yet another gadget and its accoutrements? And the iPad has set the bar for the experience, why would I want a poor cousin?

The big threat perhaps is not ereaders but the fact that if I have a gadget that combines music, film and books then I will be tempted sorely to get my fix of story from some other medium entirely. We might read less because its handier, easier and (in some senses at least) richer to watch and listen.

(Hat-tip to Joe Esposito for the cue-in on the @firstadopter article)


New Zealand at Frankfurt round-up

New Zealand at Frankfurt 2012

It really looks like the New Zealand at Frankfurt programme got off to a good start. The stunning video here with the press conference. Additionally here are radio interviews with publisher Fergus Barrowman, Ministry of Culture and Heritage Communications Manager Lucy Orbell and poet Kate Camp. Publisher Peter Dowling gives his view over on Beattie’s blog.

The official website is at

‘I live at the edge of the universe, like everybody else’

New Zealand launches it’s 2012 Frankfurt campaign and it does so in style.
This launch video is absolutely beautiful.

Creative by Colenso BBDO and words by a host of New Zealand Writers ending with Bill Manhire on the line above. Colenso have a great track record with this kind of work.

Update: Here is the press conference.

Flashlight: Strobing the book world # 4

It’s definitely an interesting newsday in the book world.

Kicking off with this article by Ewan Morrison from the Edinburgh Book Festival via the Guardian. It’s an excellent, though very bleak, article that I need to digest some more before commenting on properly.

I’m interested in this piece which looks at the possible entry of some unusual players into the book market. No doubt many non-traditional players will seek to enhance the offer to their customers through selling content actively, but the fact that there might be some increased competition to Amazon in the UK is highly significant. I also think it interesting that Argos would consider developing a reading device, which in terms of their product range would be a much easier sales proposition for them than ebooks themselves.

This piece from Philip Jones is good, both for its observation that the tenor of the publishing/bookselling debate is still worryingly defensive in character and for invoking Douglas Adams.

This article from the National Literacy Trust is a timely reminder that the universality of the skill of reading is one we cannot take for granted.

Lastly, from Galleycat I hear that The Decemberists have reenacted a scene from David Foster Wallace‘s Infinite Jest in their latest video. Which is as good a reason as any to have a musical interlude.

Update: This piece from Marcus at Vicbooks is just lovely.


Ah but its good to come home to memory lane. I’ve been out and about a bit in rather a busy way over the past couple of weeks.

However, I have been doing some interesting things. A couple of weeks ago I was part of a  panel discussion on the future of books at the Taranaki Arts Festival. Among other things, I discovered that New Plymouth is a rather excellent town to go for your first weekend away with partner but without kids in seven years. Great art gallery, museum and pub. The festival was also rather memorable in that it introduced me to the concept and reality of the Spiegeltent. I never knew such things existed but am now very glad to know that they do.

The panel was fun, a good discussion and plenty of questions from the 60 or so strong audience. Bookseller Tilly Lloyd’s view is online here.  My talk was delivered from notes rather than a written out speech, but you are likely to read its main themes here very soon. Interestingly, about a third of the audience were already using an ereader and well over half expected to be using one soon. I’m not sure why I was surprised at this as the world is, after all, increasingly joined up.  Perhaps this Guardian editorial is right.

In other news I’ve done a my first review for the New Zealand Listener on Jon Ronson’s The Psychopath Test. Loved it.

I’ve found some new sources that I’m quite taken with, especially the Elitzr podcast series which is excellent. I very much enjoyed the Richard Nash interview (who is also worth looking at here) and Seth Godin’s talk. There was a lot of stuff in the Godin edition I found fascinating, particularly his view that books need to be designed to be infectious. But I confess that I found myself strangely saddened by his comment that bookshops will become ‘giftshops for smart people’. He may be right but somehow  I can’t quite buy into that just yet. Indeed I’m not even sure why I can’t buy into it. Which means I’ll probably have to write about it.

September is shaping up to be rather full-on, but will be posting and I still have a good deal to get down on the publishing of fiction.