Books in your hands more quickly – a positive development?

Books in your hands more quickly – a positive development?

Books in your hands more quickly – a positive development?

This week, I was surprised to find a delivery man at my door at 8.50 p.m. on a Sunday evening. He was from Amazon, bringing a book I’d ordered. When I expressed surprise at the hour, he told me they now delivered until 9 p.m. every day of the week.  I hadn’t paid for any kind of expedited delivery – just the standard free option.

Then, yesterday, I was reading The Bookseller, the trade press for the UK publishing industry, and my eye was caught by the headline: ‘Amazon offers same-day collection in the UK’. The book-selling giant is to introduce a same-day collection service in the UK. That means customers who order a book (or another product) fulfilled by Amazon will be able to pick it up from one of 500 branches of a national newsagent chain. Order before 11.45 a.m. and you can pick up the book after 4 p.m. Order before 7.45 p.m. and you can collect from 6.30a.m. to 9 a.m. the next morning. The service will be free until 2015 for Prime customers, and £4.99 for others.

This same-day collection service is an add-on to the Amazon Lockers initiative, which allows customers to pick up their orders from lockers all over the country. So, for example, you can order a book online in the evening and pick it up at a London Underground station or an airport the next day. According to Amazon, this is an increasingly popular service, with orders doubling over the last year. Amazon has also been keen to push the idea that its use of some 6,000 pick-up venues drives people back to the struggling high streets (while neglecting to explore its own role in causing those high streets to struggle).

Christopher North, managing director of Amazon.co.uk, said that the company’s intention is to ‘ensure that customers all over the UK are provided with as much choice as possible when it comes to the delivery of their Amazon order’ (Bookseller).Apparently, this is what we, the consumers, want: all sorts of choices for getting our orders, and speed – faster, faster, faster.

But is that really what we as a collective want and need? Or is that what a corporate, world-changing giant is telling us to want and need?

Back to the delivery man at my door on a Sunday evening. While it’s always lovely to receive a new book, I would happily have taken delivery the following morning (or Tuesday, or Wednesday). I asked several friends the next day whether they’d experienced this ‘super Sunday delivery’, and they had. They all agreed that they didn’t feel it necessary, and had been surprised by the development. More concerning was the fact that some spoke of being irritated or uncomfortable. One poor lady had been home alone when the delivery man came, and had been quite unhappy opening the door in the dark and in her dressing gown!

‘So what of same-day books?’ I asked my friends. The discussion that ensued! Here are some of the points made:

  • It may be an exciting idea for the odd, very special publication – imagine if this had existed when the final Harry Potter book came out. But wait, bookstores opened at midnight then for eager fans…
  • Does it take away some of the joy of getting a book – the anticipation?
  • If you get a book too fast, do you then read it too fast?
  • Do you want to pick up a book from a locker or a newsagent – is something of the experience of the bookshop or even the gloriously book-shaped parcel lost?
  • How can a local independent book store that opens regular hours possibly compete?
  • Who really needs a book that fast!
  • Whatever next…?

The last point was the most concerning one. Think of the lessons we once taught children as they grow up:

Patience is a virtue.

Good things come to those who wait.

More haste, less speed.

Where are those values, once core in society, going? What’s happened to deferred gratification? Why must everything be faster? Why must childlike ‘now, now, now’ demands be met, instead of tempered?

Once upon a time, books were ever-so-precious objects – coveted and treasured. Of course, the quick delivery supports the idea of coveting books, needing to have them. But does it cement the idea of treasuring them as items? When you get something so easily, so fast, does it mean the same?

What do you think? I would love to hear your thoughts.

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