Hello everyone, Ryan again from New York. I hope this entry's not too U.S.-centric! I know little about the UK scene, so who knows if this applies on both sides of the Atlantic. After reading Adam Hodgkin's take on the Google/Amazon/Apple ebook shakeout (and Mike Shatzkin's response), I thought about what's lost here: Browse. The Kindle, the Amazon iPhone app, the Sony reader all work fine if you know what you want to read next. They fail when you just want to see what's out there and snoop around.
Of course, this isn't a new argument. Amazon's webpages encourage plenty of recommendations via homophily, and brick-and-mortars will always excel at getting you to walk in looking for one book and leaving with three. (Much to my wallet's chagrin.) If we must find a parallel in the music world, think about the number of new music you hear about through iTunes' homepage vs. music blogs.
Where do the indies come in, you ask? Here's my fantasy: what if an outfit like Indiebound, which links U.S. booksellers together, were to develop an iPhone app? They'd sync your favorite bookstores from your Indiebound profile, and import the weekly/monthly staff picks. You'd somewhat address the browse issue, sure, with one extra advantage: at the end of each staff review you would hit the "Reserve" button and instantly have a copy put on hold at that bookstore. The savvier indies like St. Mark's Bookshop could tie it into their ecommerce and provide the option to ship. (The ultra-savvy indies in certain locations might even be able to deliver the copy to your door, though of course this isn't scalable for most cases.)
So the indies connect their online and offline audiences without creating new content, customers can extend the bookstore experience beyond the brick-and-mortar, and everyone finds out about new books.
What does everyone think? Too blue sky?