Another day’s grace for Mr de Botton, who I expect is very relieved, as I have spent today also on my Bed of Pain. Or at least, my Bed of Feeling a Bit Under the Weather and Not Really Like Doing Anything Much.
Back to normal tomorrow, I hope.
But in the meantime, I have a confession to make. A terrible confession. I’ve been (dramatic pause)….. unfaithful. I’ve been Writing on Another Site. Can you ever forgive me?
In my own defence, it is a site which I consider to be generally A Good Thing: it is called My Independent Bookshop, it’s set up by Penguin Random House, it’s championed by a number of authors including the redoubtable Terry Pratchett, and I believe it launched today. The idea is that you use the site to set up your own customisable “bookshop” in which you can “stock” books you like, for which you can write a one-line blurb and a review. If people visit your shop and like a book you’ve got in stock, they can buy it via Hive, which allows you to shop locally online. The USP is that the My Independent Bookshop site is partnered with, at present, 700 independent bookshops around the UK; you can choose one to affiliate your “shop” to, and if someone buys a book from your “shop”, the (real) bookshop you’ve affiliated to will get 5% of the profit for an actual book, 8% for an eBook.
Penguin Random House have said that they have deliberately not partnered with Foyles or Waterstones because they want to support independents, and that they’re not setting out to undermine Amazon, who are “a valued business partner”. I suspect the decision not to go with Waterstones or the other chains which have substantial online presences is also to avoid massively pissing Amazon off, and in any event, anything which supports localism while sticking it to the Manazon is OK by me. Therefore I spent the afternoon setting up my bookshop, choosing my books, and writing my reviews. Hence the (embarrassed cough) being unfaithful.
So what do I think? Well, I love the idea. If it gets traction, I think it could be a really good thing. Having said that, I fear it could fall down on three things. First, the user interface is clunky. I did everything on my mobile, which was kind of OK, but navigating the site isn’t terribly intuitive, and having spent a lot of time uploading books and writing reviews, I then couldn’t find how to view my work, which was frustrating. Granted, I was on mobile, not a desktop or tablet, but so much is done these days on mobiles, and people are so used to the smooth interfaces supplied by Facebook, Twitter, and, yes, Amazon, that problems in this area may prove fatal.
Secondly, I’m not convinced their “stockroom” is as good as it should be. For instance, I uploaded twelve favourite books, one of which I wanted to be Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter. It was not in stock. There were a lot of books about her, but of her actual books, only four. It seemed an odd omission, and maybe I was just unlucky, but if this is symptomatic of a less than comprehensive “stock list”, that could also put people off.
Finally, it’s been launched by Penguin Random House as a social media site and I think they’re right – the appeal, apart from the money which goes to independents, is reading, in other people’s ” bookshops”, what their reviews are. However, from a quick look, a lot of books didn’t have reviews, just publisher’s blurbs (including in my “shop”, which was odd, as I’d just written a load of reviews). I don’t know if this was due to a problem with the site, or because I didn’t know how to work it, or because a lot of users haven’t put their reviews up yet. If the latter, hopefully the site is designed to bring “shops” with reviews to the top, as that’s where a lot of the value will lie.
In any event, it’s an admirable venture and I wish it well. Whether it succeeds, time will tell. In the meantime, if you want a look at my “bookshop”, you can find it here (I hope!).