Home » Amazon, Bookstores, Non-US » Government must help end ‘heartbreaking’ Amazon dominance, former Number 10 adviser says

Government must help end ‘heartbreaking’ Amazon dominance, former Number 10 adviser says

23 February 2016

From The Telegraph:

The might of Amazon is “killing” small publishers in the UK to an extent that is “absolutely heartbreaking”, a former Downing Street advisor has warned, as he calls on government to intervene.

Rohan Silva, a former adviser to David Cameron and George Osborne, said the lack of competition in the book market is “really horrifying”, allowing Amazon to dominate in a “desperate state of affairs”.

. . . .

He has now launched a new book store, Libreria, styling it as an “Amazon killer”; a return to material books with a ban on mobile phone use in store.
In an interview with the Telegraph, Silva – who left Westminster to set up as an entrepreneur – called on the government to refer the situation to the competition authorities, saying it would “make a world of difference for small publishers”.
He added he had been inspired to speak out after researching setting up the book shop and speaking to the small businesses he hoped to work with.

“The way in which they’re being crushed by Amazon is absolutely heartbreaking,” Silva said. “I’m absolutely aghast about what the government and competition authorities have allowed Amazon to do.

“The government and competition authorities have allowed them to become so dominant and stifle competition. It’s really horrifying.”

. . . .

Silva argued a reduction in publishers and retailers would have an “awful chilling effect” on Britain, with fewer voices heard in literature.

He added the method used by Amazon to recommend books based on what customers had already bought or viewed was “narrow and inhuman”.

Link to the rest at The Telegraph and thanks to Abel for the tip.

PG says this guy’s next targets will be Britons who persist in purchasing from Amazon. But he’s smack on about Also Boughts being inhuman. Just like the computers at Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.

Amazon, Bookstores, Non-US

64 Comments to “Government must help end ‘heartbreaking’ Amazon dominance, former Number 10 adviser says”

  1. Customers are going to be thrilled they can’t use their phones in this establishment.

    It is not the government’s job to protect businesses which can’t seem to modernize.

    It should be the government’s job to foresee these changes and make sure education keeps pace, but they don’t seem to be too good at that (and most people just want someone else to create a ‘good job’ for them).

    The most important thing you can do in the modern economy is to keep asking yourself how you can add value to an employer, a job, or the world. And to do something about acquiring new skills as the jobs which use the old ones get outsourced to China or automated to be done by robots.

    Humans are the most valuable resource on the planet, but they don’t seem to realize this.

    • “It should be the government’s job to foresee these changes and make sure education keeps pace,”

      quite a useful idea Alicia… wouldnt that be something if it could be done.

  2. What’s with the phone ban… does he think everyone will rush down there to do some showrooming?

    • It’ll be the most silent store in town: no phones…and no customers.

      Shhh, please do not disturb the owner. He’s busy curating.

    • The Guardian has some more to say about the store, including explaining the phone prohibition in more detail:

      But what will raise an eyebrow – even render you persona non grata, although I’m sure the staff would do it very sweetly – is if you walk into the shop in unholy communion with your mobile phone or tablet. Libreria will be a digital-free zone – a deliberate decision, Silva tells me as we retire to Jago for coffee, to emphasise how vital it is to occasionally decouple from your device. For many, including those at Second Home, he argues, “their lives are about endless barrages of digital messaging – so not just email and text messages, but Slack messages, Whatsapp messages, Instagram posts, Twitter, this whole welter of digital distraction and noise. And there’s this growing awareness, quite mainstream now in this community, that being in front of your screen the whole time, being plugged into digital technology the whole time, isn’t great for your happiness or your creativity.”

      Basically, the same sort of luddism that attracts people to “the smell of paper.”

      • I like the smell of paper and I ain’t no Luddite, buster! What a stupidly condescending thing to say!

      • He’s blanketing the media with this stuff.
        From City AM : Opinion
        Is former No 10 tech guru Rohan Silva right that competition authorities should investigate Amazon’s book market dominance?

        Tim Worstall, senior fellow of the Adam Smith Institute, says No.

        Congratulations to Rohan Silva for finding a way to get his new bookshop into the newspapers. But other than that there’s nothing to his complaint that Amazon is becoming “too dominant” in the books market. His complaints are about publishers and bookshops. Adam Smith said the sole purpose of production is consumption. Frederic Bastiat added we must look at all economic questions from the point of view of consumption. Thus the only lens we should look at Amazon through is that of readers and buyers. Has the company made book buying cheaper and more convenient? Yes, yes, it has. That is the end of the matter then. What happens to those using older and less efficient technologies is of no matter. We might, possibly, wonder whether a dominant sales channel will restrict what is published. But given that anyone at all can get a book up for sale on the site within 10 minutes, this is not a realistic concern either. This complaint is good publicity seeking, but not relevant to either economics or public policy.

        I like when folks focus on the reader when they reply to stuff like this, rather than the all important middleman…

  3. There is no end to the derangement. How on earth are they going to enforce the no phone rule? Their police don’t carry guns!

  4. Amazon publishes everybody, and yet fewer voices will be heard. Sure thing, guy.

    I can really only laugh about the cell phone ban. Way to know the modern shopper.

    • I had to read the first sentence three times and go to the original article to make sure I’d read it correctly.

      How is making the vast majority of books in print available to a massive potential audience killing small publishers? Small booksellers, okay. But it should be a windfall for small publishers.

      • That was my thought as well. I see many people say this, that Amazon is killing publishers, and I don’t see how—except for self-published authors taking market share away. A publisher must need a certain critical mass to make their business viable. If the ease of self-publishing at Amazon results in depleting a small publisher’s business to the point that that critical mass isn’t there, then maybe Amazon is a threat. Otherwise, it’s bookstores that should be at risk to Amazon’s retail presence, not publishers.

        • It’s the ADS scater-gun whine of someone who knows there’s not a thing wrong with what Amazon is doing, but thinks there should be — just because it’s Amazon …

          • “It’s the ADS scater-gun whine…”

            At first glance, I read this as “skater-gun whine”. Now I’m stuck with the image of ADS whiners as adolescent miscreants with reversed caps and shorts hanging around their knees…

            Ahh well, no great loss.

      • Small presses are undoubtedly losing clients. Authors can now publish their own work in a fraction of the time and hire their own editors rather than taking potluck. Small presses that haven’t established reputations of value will fail. Maybe that’s what he’s lamenting? Because “small publishers” means us, the indies that Amazon has made possible. But of course his anti-digital bookstore won’t carry indie books in any format.

  5. “…a former Downing Street advisor…”

    So what’s the story there? Did he get sacked? IMWTK! 🙂

    • He’s a ‘former adviser’ because he went bats**t crazy on his ADS and they had to let him go …

      Didn’t help his ADS though …

  6. Narrow and inhumane? I kind of get it, but no one is forced to follow those recommendations. Just like in normal stores no one is forced to ignore a call that their son got in a traffic accident.

  7. Basic behavior management – why not try positive reinforcement instead of something punitive? It almost always works better. How about a punch card? Five purchases (punches) equals a free book within a certain price range? Or even a free used book? Each purchase results in an entry into a drawing? Each purchaser receives a free cup of coffee? A cookie for the kid? There are so many more creative and better ways to handle this. Banning cell phones will only result in customers going elsewhere.

  8. All you shoppers out there had better get in line! We’ll have no more of this voting with your wallets! It’s unfair, I tell you!


  9. Breitbart.com has an interesting roundup that suggests he’ll do for book publishing what he did with Tech City, an attempt to create Silicon Valley in London:

    the greatest mystery is how Rohan Silva reduced an entire industry to giggling, infatuated schoolgirls–attracting the sort of praise normally reserved for religious deities–while achieving vanishingly little for businesses suffocated by over-regulation and tax.

    (Trigger Warning: The site has a strong conservative bent and an even stronger attitude. No bad words or images, just an opinion.)

    • Depending on your browser and ISP, it can also jam up your computer. Apparently the ads and videos give my MacBook indigestion (both Firefox and Safari).

  10. The real fun comes when you read the OP and follow some of it’s embedded links – the first one is from Silva himself, musing about how robots are going to destroy the middle class. Another is an oldie from Wylie comparing Amazon to Isis. The guy looks like your standard smooth talking all-hat no-cattle conman who is bopping from one wallet to another, thus the chic bookstore with it’s hand-cut shelves and thematically curated selection – no electronics allowed.


  11. He added the method used by Amazon to recommend books based on what customers had already bought or viewed was “narrow and inhuman”.

    Before the big chains, I went to my regular bookstore and asked the manager for recommendations. He based his recs on what I already read and liked.

    Also, I’d ask my librarians to recommend books to me. They’d base their recs on what I already read and liked.

    If I went to this bookstore and asked for recommendations, they’d base their recs on what I already read and liked.

    However, when Amazon does it, it’s “narrow and inhuman”.


  12. If a store I entered said “no cell phones allowed” I would just turn around and leave.

    • As often as I say “put that phone up” at school (we have a firm no-phone policy), going to a cell-free shop every so often sounds rather relaxing. 🙂

  13. Really, the best bit comes from what I’m guessing is a paywalled The Bookseller article, quoted on The Digital Reader.

    Helping to conjure a varied bookshop experience, the shop has a whisky bar—free to sup for customers because the venue doesn’t have a licence—and a printing press in the basement, run by designer, printer and bookseller Jessica Fogarty, to really bring books “to life”. The press may one day publish its own titles. In an unusual twist, the books in the shop are displayed by broad, quirky themes and across genres, under which can be found both fiction and non-fiction titles.

    I could get so much mileage out of that. So many ledes suggest themselves.

    “Amazon might drive some booksellers to drink, but it’s driving at least one to give away free booze.”

    Or “London bookseller takes cue from pick-up artists, ‘negs’ Amazon while attempting to get customers drunk enough to buy books.”

    Or maybe “Judging ‘Civilised Saturday’ prosecco giveaways too timid and brewery bookshops too uncultured, London bookseller decides to offer free whiskey instead.”

    “Bookseller skirts liquor laws by giving booze away, but hopes to make it up in volume.”

    Seriously, I could go on and on.

    • I love the last lede.

    • Yo, calling all UK alcoholics: Head for this bookshop for FREE booze!

      Reeking, unwashed London street bums* especially welcome! 🙂

      *Just no cell phones, please… if you have one. 🙁

    • “[A] printing press in the basement, run by designer, printer and bookseller Jessica Fogarty, to really bring books ‘to life’. The press may one day publish its own titles.”

      The printing press in the basement writes? Someone page Fredric Brown. We’ve found Etaoin Shrdlu.

    • “This weekend only: free hookers and blow!”

      In my state, bookstores are prevented from offering free whiskey because of government regulation.

  14. This guy somehow managed to turn his brain around completely backwards inside his own skull. Quite impressive that, only problem is it causes him to spout nonsense.

  15. I can’t begin to say how irritating this sort of stuff is to all the rest of us who don’t live or work in London. And frankly – because I’m both self and trad published – my small, flourishing independent publisher probably wouldn’t survive without eBook sales. Neither would I, wearing my other hat as a self published author. Like so many blinkered establishment Londoners, he doesn’t have the faintest idea what he’s talking about.

    • Hey, I’m a Londoner! And this guy irritates me. Man sets up bookshop, notices Amazon got there before him, and is peeved.

      The free whisky thing won’t last a month, if you ask me.

  16. “Libreria” — hilarious. It will remind people that if they want a silent environment for reading books, they can just go to the library.

  17. For those having trouble understanding what he is trying to say, allow me to translate for you:

    Waa Waa Waa Waaaaa

  18. Competition law is supposed to protect competition, not competitors.

    • Not in the EU, it isn’t.

      • Correct.
        Look into the (blocked) GE-Honeywell merger or the origin of Windows N.
        Or the (winking) slap on the wrist the Price Fix conspirators got in both the EU and Canada, where “we were trying to hurt Amazon” was accepted as a valid excuse to rip off consumers.

  19. Did this guy beat the drum to save mom-and-pop video stores? How about Tower Music and CDs?

    Don’t stop there. What about all those blacksmiths who were put out of business by the horseless carriage? And the portrait painters who lost their jobs because of photography?

    This guy could use a serious lesson in history. Just be sure you don’t recommend an ebook…

    • “Did this guy beat the drum to save mom-and-pop video stores? How about Tower Music and CDs?”

      Afraid not. This guy is beating the drum to try to save his own new store.

  20. I suspect Silva is the love child of David Streitfeld and Ursela Le Guin.

  21. “Also Boughts” are inhuman. I’ll be surfing Amazon, looking for some serious literature to expand my understanding of the human condition. I accidentally stumble upon “Zombie Sorority vs. Vampire Billionaires.” I click to see if it was written by Jonathan Franzen or Haruki Murakami (it wasn’t). I read the sales blurb. This is clearly non-artistic trash (though is certainly sounds entertaining)! I am overcome with shame. I am really on the hunt for a serious work of literature and I want to support important novelists… I’m about to move on and then… it happens…

    … OH NO! I see at the bottom of the page: Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought… Zombie Cheerleaders! Bisexual Shapechangers! Werewolf Tank Squad Angels! Samurai Stewardesses!

    Click! Click! Click! Oh, the inhumanity!

  22. He added the method used by Amazon to recommend books based on what customers had already bought or viewed was “narrow and inhuman”.

    So, if I wander in there looking for a thriller, should I tell the clerk I like romances?

    • If you wander in there looking for a thriller or a romance, you’d better make sure your will is up to date. It sounds like the sort of place where the staff shoot on sight if they encounter anyone looking for Genre Trash.

  23. I imagine the real reason they ban cell phones is to prevent customers from looking up books they like on Amazon and ordering them from the ‘zon at a better price. That’s what I and many of my friends do. Even download the ebook and start reading in the store.

  24. Dinosaur: “What asterio…”

  25. Thank god for the algorithms shifting our genre adventure series right under the gaze of potential fans for that period, that style. The Amazon UK bots are doing a great job for that series. End of story for us.

  26. Smart Debut Author

    The main takeaway from this article is that some nice London retail real estate is about to become available in six months.

    Anyone have any business ideas? 😉

    • @ SDA

      *Dipsomaniac Free Tasting Room? 🙂

      *Sponsored by UK breweries, wineries, & distilleries?

      • 1. Let random homeless people drink for free in a posh environment filled with fragile, expensive paper books
        2. ?
        3. Profits


        • He’s trying to win the ‘race to the bottom’.

          Next week we’ll hear that he’s gone to paying people to shop at his ‘bookstore’ and he still has to get them drunk before they’ll even consider buying anything there …

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