Written by Internet, Literature, Music, Technology

Serendipity Redux

No, not a very poor film in John Cusack’s ouevre.


noun
the occurance and development of events by chance in a happy and beneficial way

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. This is something that sadly the internet is not able to deal with effectively in certain areas. I’m going to talk about music and books, because two experiences just drove this home in case I’d forgotten over the last couple of weeks.
Last week, I visited HMV’s flagship branch on Oxford Street. This is somewhere I’ve been visiting as long as I can remember. While the other “big two” stores – Tower Records on Piccadilly Circus, and the Virgin Megastore at Tottenham Court Road tube station, have long gone, HMV is just about still standing. Who knows for how long?
I wanted to buy the soundtrack to Norwegian Wood. I’ve not seen the film yet, but I did hear elements of the music played live this time last year when Jonny Greenwood premiered it (and actually seemed to be the key source for the news that Greenwood was composing for the film!). Anyway, the soundtrack album came out last week, and I’m “old” in that music that I care most about, I still buy on CD. I do do download plenty of music too – including being in possession of a long standing eMusic subscription. But you can’t beat a CD. Aside from anything else, it’s the ultimate back-up device.
While I was downstairs in HMV, I took the opportunity to wander around beyond the soundtrack section. And at the end of a World Music aisle I spotted C’est Chic: French Girl Singers of the 1960s. Now I have something of a soft spot for the music of the Yé-yé girls of the 1960s. But aside from downloading Ne Me Laisse Pas L’Aimer by Brigitte Bardot after hearing it on a lager commercial, I only actually own one other record of music of that type – another compilation. What’s more, I didn’t buy that album on Amazon, where I do still buy plenty of music. Amazon has no idea that I quite like 1960s French pop. It’d never suggest that I look at it.
But someone at HMV had put the album out on display. I spotted it. And I bought it. I also picked up a Gustavo Dudamel album in the classical music section that had been newly released and was on the shelves. So a trip to HMV for one album resulted in a sale of three albums. Could I have got them cheaper on Amazon? Well the Greenwood album was £1 cheaper, and I didn’t check the others. But I’ll happily pay a small premium for instant gratification, as well as the knowledge that my opportunities to discover music like this could be going away.
Amazon is great, but there isn’t yet an algorithm that reads my mind and determines that I might like something unless I’ve previously looked at it (Indeed, Amazon currently believe that I want a Panasonic camcorder simply because I used the store to find recommendations for a friend who is in the market for a camcorder).
Then last night I was at the second installment of the Nordic Noir Book Club. If you hadn’t noticed, there’s been an explosion of crime fiction coming from the north. Mankell’s Wallander led the way, and then Larsson’s Elizabeth Salander jumped out onto the scene. Now Swedish, Norwegian and Icelandic translators are being kept very busy by a steady stream of other authors, many of who are excellent.
Last night it was the turn of Yrsa Sigurðardóttir who until recently I hadn’t read (I’m about halfway through one of her Thóra Gudmundsdóttir novels, having not managed to finish it before last night’s event. It’s very good though!
During the interval, I decided to buy the other two books she has in English translation currently. A nice chap from the Newham Bookshop was on hand to sell copies – pretty normal at an event like this. Some bookshop or other will always supply staff and books (with the help of the publisher) – especially if the author has travelled from Iceland especially.
The lady in the queue in front of me had thumbed through a copy and then she asked the chap manning the stand if he knew whether the books were available as eBooks. You see, she had recently been given an eBook reader and wanted to use it with Yrsa’s books. He very politely said that he didn’t know, but since hers is a major publisher it was likely. She walked away.
I felt desperately sorry for her, and wonder how much other bookshop assistants are getting similar queries. eBook sales completely cut out bookshops. You deal directly either with the publisher, or more likely with an enormous middle-man like Amazon or Apple, both of whom have their own devices and ebook technologies to sell.
Waterstones (part of the HMV group) has struggled, and small independent bookshops are constantly fighting for their lives. It’s quite likely that in the not-too-distant future bookshops as we know them will have gone. So will the record shops, and CD or DVD retailers. We’ll all have to purchase everything online.
You won’t be able to get a copy of your Kindle edition signed by the author. You won’t chance across a copy of French 1960s pop compilation. And we’ll be a lesser society for that.