March 13, 2013

UK bookstores fight back against Amazon with exclusive material



Hello, Amazon. Remember when you came up with that great idea for an app that would allow people to stand in a real bookstore, scan a bar code, and buy the book they were actually looking at on your site for less? Remember how you chuckled when you thought of how you’d screw over all those silly “locations” naively paying “taxes” while trying their damnedest to sell “books”?

Well, Waterstone’s has a little something for you, and it’s called payback. In the form of an extra chapter in the newest Joanne Harris novel, Peaches for Monsieur Le Curé, which is only to be found in copies of the book bought in the store.  And Waterstone’s isn’t the only one: in an article in the Independent, Tom Peck and Miranda Kiek report that a number of UK booksellers have been offering bonus material or special features through exclusive deals with authors.  Alexander McCall Smith and Ian Rankin are just two of the authors who’ve recently provided bookshop-only material for their new titles to Foyles and other brick-and-mortar outlets. Furthermore,

It is not merely the big high street players signing up to these schemes. Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights in Bath, twice recent winner of the Independent Bookshop of the Year Award, has also worked with publishers to secure exclusive extras.

This is, if you couldn’t tell from my gloating tone, a highly satisfying development on the “what makes bookstores special” front, because it allows them to point to something very concrete, rather than the equally valid but more nebulous-sounding ideals of bookstores being important community spaces, being better places for discovering new books than Amazon, being generally friendlier, better to their employees, less likely to take your books away from you after you’ve bought them, and all those other minor qualities. Though I’ve yet to hear of an author choosing to make something high premium—like the very last chapter of a crime novel—exclusive, when authors with the draw of Harris, Rankin, and McCall Smith are participating in this kind of deliberate plan to send readers to stores, it’s going to be increasingly hard for Amazon to brush the competition off.


Sal Robinson is a former Melville House editor. She's also the co-founder of the Bridge Series, a reading series focused on translation.