Is Waterstones selling Kindle ebooks?

Anyone who has wandered into a Waterstones bookstore recently will have noticed a display of Amazon Kindle ebook readers, apparently for sale at the same prices as those displayed on the Amazon Web site itself. More recently you would also have noticed prominent signs encouraging you to connect your Kindle to the free in-store WiFi, from which you could presumably buy any book you fancy directly from Amazon. So why is Waterstones doing this?

James Daunt, MD of Waterstones, announced a deal with Amazon back in May 2012, but was reticent to discuss the “commercial details of the partnership.” Howevere his response to the accusation that he had signed the company’s death warrant was: “Do I look like a total moron? Because what you’re describing is the behaviour of a total moron.” (BBC News)

So there is definitely more to the arrangement than meets the eye. What I have heard from private inquiries is that a substantial chunk of the proceeds of a purchase made from a Kindle through the in-store WiFi go to Waterstones, rather than Amazon. In return Waterstones makes no profit on the devices themselves, which is why they match Amazon prices.

Waterstones press office still refused to disclose details of the deal when I spoke to them this morning, but they did not deny this was the case, and indeed confirmed they had heard the rumour before. If it is the case then I assume the details are being kept quiet to prevent unrest from competitors. There will also be technical changes that need to be tested. However such a deal would allow traditional bookstores to participate in the ebook boom, which can only be a good thing.

Will robots kill the market economy?

Photo by Richard Greenhill and Hugo Elias of the Shadow Robot Company via Wikimedia Commons.

I recently attended the Master Investor conference, held at the Business Design Centre in Islington. One of the speakers was the highly successful investor Jim Mellon who gave a succinct summary of world markets as they stand today. But what particularly caught my attention were his remarks towards the end of his speech, when he touched upon the effects that robotics will have upon the modern world.

This is apparently to be the subject of his next book, and he did make it clear that he had yet to map out all the implications. However his central argument is that the increasing use of robots in factories (particularly in developing countries), and the imminent arrival of more intelligent machines that can – for example – drive cars, will inevitably lead to unemployment at levels far beyond those we are experiencing in the current recession. As Mellon pointed out, when £25,000 will buy a robot that doesn’t need sleep or holidays, never makes a mistake and will never draw a pension, why continue spending similar amounts every year to employ a human being who does and will? Continue reading

The privatisation of the NHS

Free Online PicturesNow that the government’s plans for the privatisation of the NHS have become clear, I thought I should pen a quick guide to help the modern entrepreneur take advantage of the opportunities arising:

  1. This is essentially a scheme that allows you to divert large quantities of taxpayers money into your own pocket through the dividends, bonuses and executive pension opportunities open to you and your fellow board members. Remember to contact your tax advisor for information on the many tax avoidance schemes that you might be able to use.
  2. It will of course be necessary to pay yourself a salary high enough to ensure that you aren’t tempted to transfer your services elsewhere.
  3. Don’t worry if things go belly-up as the government is not about to let an NHS service provider go bankrupt. Instead they are likely to hand over even more public funds in an effort to keep your company afloat, which of course you can continue to divert into dividends, bonuses and executive pension schemes.
  4. Don’t worry too much about the quality of the service you actually deliver. Even if things get so bad that some of your employees are prosecuted and end up in jail, it is highly unlikely that you will be held to account.

And of course, if it does all go wrong, or the derision of the press becomes too uncomfortable, you can always retire to the tax haven where you’ve deposited your well-earned takings.

Banker bonuses: a customer’s view

So far the debate on banker bonuses seems to have focused on two areas: the unfairness and inequality that the bonuses represent, and the value (or not) that they add to the businesses they run. The first represents the view of society as a whole, questioning whether anyone is worth a million-pound bonus on top of their million-pound salary. The second represents (or is supposed to represent) the view of the shareholders, who are putting it in perspective with the billion-pound profits of the banks they own.

However I think there is another equally valid perspective, namely that of the customers. Let’s see how well they’ve done there: Continue reading

The nature of debt

A stranger is staying at a hotel in a small town high up in the mountains for a few days. Shortly after his guest has eaten breakfast and left for the day, the hotel owner notices that he has left his wallet on the table. Business is bad, everyone is in debt, and the baker has refused to sell the hotelier any more bread until he pays the £100 that he owes. The hotelier can see that there are five £20 notes in his guest’s wallet, and after wrestling with his conscience for a short while, steals the money and takes it down the baker, who restores the hotelier’s line of credit.

The baker is particularly grateful to the hotelier as he happens to owe the butcher £100, so he takes the banknotes across to the butcher’s shop and settles his bill. The butcher in turn owes the local garage £100 for repairs to his car, so he uses the money to pay off his bill. The garage owner realises that he can now pay the hotelier the £100 he owes for the meal bought last weekend, so he pops into the hotel and gives the money to the hotelier. Moments later, the guest returns. The hotelier, seeing him come through the door, quickly puts the £100 back in the wallet and hands it back to the guest.

At first sight, there is something odd about this tale. Everyone in the town appears to have paid off their debts and yet, at the end of the day, the stranger still gets his £100 back. How can this work? Where did the money come from? Continue reading

Tom Abba on the future of the book

I went to a talk last night by Tom Abba entitled “This isn’t the future of the book”. I was expecting something different – more to do with eBooks, iPads and Amazon – but what I got was altogether more interesting.

Abba is a lecturer in New Media and Visual Culture at University of West of England in Bristol and recently completed a PhD, out of which came the subject of the main part of his talk. What concerns Abba is the future of the book in an age where both creation and consumption is (or can be) digital. Right away he suggested that “we can’t see the wood for the huge tree labeled ‘interactive fiction’ that is blocking our view.” By this he means multi-threaded or hyperlinked stories where your route through the story is determined by choices you make, but all the paths are predetermined by the author. Continue reading

Useful sites for writers (2)

Editors and proofreaders may be suprised to discover that there is an organisation devoted to their needs, namely the Society for Editors and Proofreaders. The society runs training courses, holds conferences and has a magazine called (rather cleverly) Editing Matters. It even includes a self-test in proofreading that you can run online to find out just how good you are at proofreading.

It’s also worth noting that Scrivener for Windows 1.0 has now been released. You can buy a copy from the Web site for just $40 or download a 30-day trial version for free, and I highly recommended it.

Games theory

Although often discredited, Games Theory can still shed light on human behaviour. What follows is an extract from a work-in-progress:

Game TheoryGames Theory is the study of situations where two or more players interact in accordance with a set of rules, and in particular where such situations arise in our political and economic life. Surprisingly it is fairly recent, generally considered to date from 1928 when John von Neumann’s book Zur Theorie der Gesellschaftsspiele (‘On the Theory of Parlour Games’) was first published. This was followed in 1944 by Theory of Games and Economic Behavior which Neumann co-authored with Oskar Morgenstern.

There are essentially two types of games. Zero-sum games are those where one player wins and the other loses. Typical examples include tic-tac-toe (also known as noughts and crosses), chess, poker and football. Rather more interesting are non zero-sum games where outcomes include the possibility of both players improving their situation. Perhaps the most important non zero-sum game in the economic world is the act of shopping. Sellers only sell their goods when they regard the money being offered as having greater value than the goods itself. Buyers only buy when they regard the goods as being worth more than the money asked. If both sides can agree a price then both walk away from the deal as winners. Continue reading

Costa Rica zip wire experience

I took this video as I was zipping down the longest stretch of the zip wire complex at Selvatura Park, which runs above and through the Monteverde cloud forest in central Costa Rica. The Canopy Tour consists of 15 zip cables running over a total distance of 3km, most a few 100 metres in length but the longest (this one) measuring 1,000 metres. As you can see I am sitting in a harness behind the guide, which leaves me hands free to manage the camera. Continue reading

Useful sites for writers (1)

There are a number of Web sites that I’ve come across recently which are particularly useful to those of us involved in the writing of books.

The first concerns the word processor Scrivener, virtually unknown in the Windows community but well-loved by writers who use the Mac. Scrivener is specifically tailored to the needs of those writing books or scripts. Perhaps its most useful feature is the ability to split your manuscript into individual scenes, represented by index cards that can be re-ordered with ease. Each card has a status, which can range from ‘Todo’ through ‘First Draft’, ‘Revised Draft’ and ‘Final Draft’ to ‘Done’, and can be assigned notes and a title. The good news for Windows users is that a Windows version is being launched soon, and you can download the Beta now. Check out Scrivener for Windows for more information.

Then there is the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society. If you have written a book or two, or had some articles published ages ago, then you might be owed secondary royalty payments which they will track down for you. Membership is £25 (subtracted from their first payment to you) and they do charge a commission, but they did recover over £400 owed on a book I had published over a decade ago, which is not to be sniffed at.

Finally, as I’m sure you know, you do not need to explicitly register a work for copyright as it is automatically granted on anything you have written. Generally this is respected throughout the industry, however plagiarism is not unknown, in which case it might be useful to be able to prove that you had written something on or before a particular date. This is where the UK Copyright Service comes in, providing secure storage for an encrypted copy of your work. All you have to do is register and upload the relevant files, which can be text, PDF or images. Probably unnecessary, but the charge is only £39 for a five year registration which does not seem excessive.