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Double Booked. And This Time It’s Personal. December 9, 2012

Posted by markswill in About me, Media, Navel Gazing.

Once again I find myself repeating myself, or at least returning to a rant only just posted, but being of an obsessive nature, I just damn well will. (Reminds me of a sign in a Parisian shop a fortnight ago: ‘Okay, I’m addicted to shoes – so what?’). So there I was browsing my local Waterstones, seeking selfish reward after a particularly harrowing dental appointment on Friday and, as anyone frequenting Britain’s sole remaining bookstore chain recently now knows, you can’t get through their doors without tripping over a table full of Kindles. Usually I ignore them, but this time some 12 year-old (© Ed Reardon) actually accosted me and asked if I’d “thought about” buying one.

“Yes,” I replied with all the snottiness you’d expect, “and my thought was ‘not in a million years.’” Not exactly a scintillating response, but as I took my ‘Buy One – Get Another Half Price’ volumes to the dreadlocked Assistant Manager (as his badge so helpfully explained) at the till, I managed something chunkier. “Tell me, “ I asked, handing over my Waterstones loyalty card (yes, I’m that sad), “what’ll happen when you’ve sold all your customers a Kindle… apart,” I added with a triumphant sneer, “from making lots of money for Amazon who won’t pay tax on it?”

Somewhere between sheepish and confused – hadn’t his boss James ‘Turncoat’ Daunt, anticipated his staff being asked this? – he haltingly, if not bitterly replied, “Well I supposed we’ll become a Kindle accessory shop?” Unsure if he was actually being facetious, I parried, “Well then you won’t need all this space will you, or all these staff?”

As it happened, a punter waiting behind me piped up, “But at least it’ll keep people reading, and they’re so much more convenient than books.” I looked round and saw her blanching slightly, perhaps as the import of her words sunk in. Readying her debit card to pay for Hilary Mantel’s latest, this well-groomed, interesting-looking woman of a certain age was perhaps echoing the conclusion drawn in my last blog, inasmuch that digital media is just symptomatic of technology’s inevitable progress, and as bookshops, printers, paper mills, warehouses and all their staff disappear like the quill and the Gutenberg press, society will adjust. Although in this case perhaps just to one or two companies – Amazon? Google? – profiting from and controlling everything we consume.

Which brings me neatly to another regular beef: the changing nature of human communications. I’m actually writing this during the day-long ‘technical rehearsals’ for our town panto, which despite the fluffed lines, wrongly-keyed songs and mis-timed entrances is a terrifically convivial affair and one of the small joys of living in a real community. And afterwards, suitably exhausted and moderately elated, some of us will doubtless repair to the pub, perhaps even staying on ‘til the pub quiz at 9.30.

I’ve actually had some of my best times of my life in pubs and bars, especially this one which luckily is at the end of my road. However I have many friends who never go to pubs at all. And yes, the booze costs thrice as much as at Aldi and if you live in the sticks driving home is risky, but like bookshops (and butchers and bakers), they’re disappearing fast and with them an entire facility for social contact. And how often do you simply phone up your mates for a chat these days? Nah, now it’s Twatter and FarceBerk that evidently sustain us socially and when I sometimes do call someone up for no particular reason, they are usually surprised and sometimes lost for conversation.

But I know people who use FarceBerk on a daily basis to broadcast their little miseries and triumphs (‘Here’s baby Mandy eating her first porridge’), or alert their chums to an hilarious video of a dog farting.  To mention this sounds pejorative and churlish, but like bemoaning the imminent death of the book, it’s a lament for a time when our relationships were more tactile and you could understand so much better how your friends, family and lovers were really feeling across a pub table, or even at the end of a telephone receiver. Okay, there’s Skype, but cowering awkwardly over our keyboards, Skype chats are viewed in blurry, staccato images reminiscent of Ray Harryhausen’s ‘50s and ‘60s stop-motion film animation… i.e. very distracting.

I know I’m riding high on my extremely hypocritical horse here, because I also occasionally delve into FarceBerk, albeit mainly to flog my blog, I use email several times a day, and I’ve been hopelessly flattered by those I respect into joining online business communities such as LinkedIn and Plaxo, naïvely believing it’d help my so-called career, but all they seem to do is encourage members to boast how clever and successful they are and/or spew out acronyms I neither am able nor really want to understand to voice anodyne opinions about the wonderfulness of digital media.

Where will it end? Will human interaction become limited almost entirely to the digital short-form and if so, what will it mean for the depth and diversity of imagination, emotions and intellectual rigour? As ever, I’m keen to hear your views, Orwellian or otherwise. Full of seasonal cheer, that’s me.

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1. Deborah - December 9, 2012

I recommend second-hand and antiquarian book shops. Not a kindle in sight.

markswill - December 9, 2012

You’re obviously one of Jules’ fellow travellers (see above), Deborah. And in principle I’m with you, although antiquarian prices sometimes appal me. But then I live dangerously close to Way-on-High. or Hampstead-on-Wye as I alternatively refer to it.

2. julesbollocks - December 9, 2012

I heard a story [apocryphal no doubt] that Denis Diderot in the 18th century was the last man to read every book in existence [at the time and available for purchase]. Now you would have a job just receiving the 1000 books a day that are published in English via Amazon and would be no better off if you had read them.

The whole point of bookshops is not to provide an outlet for books it is to reduce choice. It is the same with music or telly or soap powder: too much choice, and I am the least responsible person to ask so I rely on the radio to make my selection, or Aldi or Dave and ultimately I rely on friends to make my choice in books- whom I borrow from- who buy them from Waterstones. So if book shops close down in the real high st and get replaced by charity shops that get stocked by the middle-classes making more room on their bookshelves- I am happy to adapt.

markswill - December 9, 2012

Interesting point(s) Jules. And doubtless as the widening gap between rich and poor will soon turn many of us into foragers, you may be right. But what happens when the middle-classes stop buying books that we pick up later in charity shops? Or will that be beyond our lifetimes? Let’s hope so.

Norma - December 10, 2012

I have to agree about foragers..but on the subject of kindles…i hear that the production of books worldwide is one of the main reasons for the destruction of the rainforest/forests in general,,[radio4] and i think about the trillions of unread books that end up being destroyed…Kindles may have their place in the world…. can we not have both?

Mark Williams - December 10, 2012

Well Norma, I guess you’re right about the trees. But what about all that oil and all those precious metals used to manufacture Kindles and other e-readers? And then there’s the near-slave labour used to manufacturer them. There are no easy answers, obviously.

3. Pete - December 9, 2012

I like the image you’ve conjured there – the beamish boy, MW, takes on the Kindlewocky…

A friend who works in Blackwells reckons the bookshop will adapt to become a lifestyle venue for reading (and accessories as your encounter suggests) and related pursuits. It will also aggressively market electronic readers.

How the internet deals with the dominance of Amazon remains to be seen but possibly new means of promoting the dissemination of written work will evolve that are actually more distributed than the bookstore, whether digital or physical. Ultimately it all comes down to promotion and marketing and Amazon relies on the relative laziness or ignorance of writers about how to push their works to the public. Or maybe this is a threshold where, like the illuminating monks confronted by Gutenberg, we have to abandon old ways and just embrace the new?

4. markswill - December 9, 2012

You final sentence reflects the gist of my last brace of blogs, I’m personally afraid to say. As for bookshops becoming “lifestyle venues”, then gawd spare us. Or me, anyway. Will butchers and bakers and fishmongers and, er, pubs then follow suit and turn into “destination attractions” for the Volvo-driving classes, too?

julesbollocks - December 10, 2012

Nightmare or new wave of hope: the Amazon-lifestyle-Starbuck meeting place OR Local- library -pub- philosophers coffee shop. You decide.

In retrospect I have happy memories of our local Anarchist Bookshop where you could read books on drugs, drink coffee, listen to ‘World Music’ and wait for the copy of Punk Fanzines we had printed on their 2nd hand offset out the back. The place even got raided by the Vice squad for all their obscene books. Ah happy days. [but not impossible to update].

5. WTK - December 10, 2012

I’m thinking about getting a mastoid bone wireless implant for cell phone use and audio books. What do you think? I wonder why all these corporations sat around for 10 years doing nothing while Amazon, eBay, and Apple ate their lunch??? I have a hard time feeling sorry for incompetent business people, and supporting dysfunctional businesses. Without fires there is no growth. Harrumphhh!

markswill - December 10, 2012

I acknowledged the irresistible march of progress, Terry, but my underlying point is that soon there will be just very few multinational suppliers of everything who contribute damn-all to the societies they profit from, certainly not taxes. But maybe, in your profession, you think that’s a good thing too? Makes ‘investment’ a whole lot easier? But will they NEED investment when they’re running the world in 20-30 years time?

WTK - December 10, 2012

My belief is that all companies screw the pooch sooner or later and yes, the taxation issue must be enforced. Just as Micro$oft is dying a slow death, no company is too large to fail—thee is a natural cycle. Investment banking makes money investing in small companies with good management and strong identity, hoping they become the next InstaGram, etc.–precisely why we only invest in sub-Saharan companies—we hope that developing such companies brings economic development, and of course, money in our pocikets. Personally, I hate large companies and they all need to be anti-trusted like Standard Oil in 1912. Absolute power corrupts absolutely!

6. Stephen - December 10, 2012

Mark, I too like pubs. If you think pubs are dying in England, try it here in France. Most village bars exist primarily to sell fags and we won’t mention the beer.

You are lucky. The Marches has a rich seam of good pubs in the middle of nowhere. Trying to remember all the pubs that were in Presteigne in my youth, most of which have gone. Most unique pub round there IMHO has to be the Tavern in Kington. Looking forward to having a pint there at Christmas I hope.

markswill - December 10, 2012

Stephen, I take your point about French bars, although I should have written “pubs AND bars” in my blog, for I’ve had some great times in American, Italian and even French bars. Yep, the Olde Towne Tavern in Kington is still there and still as whacky as ever, whilst here in Presteigns we have the Dukes (my local), the Farmers (once great post-hippy hangout), and the Oak. Plus the Radnor Arms if you want to drink in a poncy hotel with ideas above its station. The Bull went almost two years ago, sadly.

WTK - December 10, 2012

Here is an article about the usual scumbag tax dodger that you referred to earlier. TYhey should be hung!

Google avoided about $2 billion in global income taxes last year by shifting $9.8 billion in revenue into a Bermuda shell company, Bloomberg reported.
That level is almost double the total from three years ago, Bloomberg said, citing a Nov. 21 regulatory filing by a Google subsidiary in the Netherlands. And it allowed Google to cut its overall tax rate almost in half.
Google’s action — moving about 80 percent of its total pretax profit from 2011 to tax-free Bermuda — isn’t illegal. On the contrary, many companies have taken similar steps in recent years to avoid paying steep taxes.
Some, like Cisco and Qualcomm, have pushed for tax holidays that would allow them to bring foreign-held cash back to the U.S. at much lower tax rates. They have argued that such holidays would allow them to create more jobs and help the economy, but critics say that’s often not true. Instead, companies often institute dividends and other policies to reward investors and executives.
As Bloomberg noted, outrage over corporate tax dodging has been spreading across Europe and the U.S. as the nations grapple with tough economic times. During the recent economic downturn, many companies have been reporting record financial results but paying low amounts of tax.
As a result, Bloomberg noted that governments in France, the U.K., Italy, and Australia are probing Google’s tax avoidance as they seek to boost revenue during the tough times.
Just last week, the European Union’s executive body, the European Commission, recommended that member states maintain blacklists of tax havens and adopt anti-abuse rules, Bloomberg said. Tax evasion and avoidance costs the EU 1 trillion euros a year, the publication said.
According to Bloomberg, Google’s tax rate in 2011 totaled just 3.2 percent on the profit it earned overseas. That amount came even as most of its foreign business was in European countries with corporate taxes of 26 percent to 34 percent.
Its overall effective tax rate dropped to 21 percent last year from about 28 percent in 2008, Bloomberg said, well below the average combined U.S. and state statutory rate of about 39 percent.
Google told Bloomberg that it complies with all tax rules and that its investment in various European countries helps their economies.
We’ve contacted Google and will update the article when we hear back.

markswill - December 10, 2012

Can I utter the immortal phrase, “I rest my case” now, Terry?

Stephen - December 11, 2012

Sad about the Bull, but that opened and closed many times over the last 30 years if memory serves me correctly. I quite liked the Oak that was opposite the Esso station and I know what you mean about the Radnor Arms. I think it was the only pub in the village that my Grandfather ever visited but that is another story.

Mark Williams - December 11, 2012

My, my Stephen, it must’ve been a long time since you lived in Presteigne: the filling station – still hanging on in there against the national trend for closures – hasn’t sold Esso for many years: it’s now a Gulf outlet, and before than sold the indie UK brand. BTW, what’s your surname? Do we know each other? I think I should be told!

7. Steve Samiof - December 11, 2012

Where’s the bloody “like” button?

markswill - December 11, 2012

Hahahahaha and indeed, ha, Steve. Ever the wag.

8. hed maginnis - January 5, 2013

For what its worth. I’m sure the January blues are no worse than the rest of the years stuff but may I heartily recommend Graham Parker and the Rumour Three chords good.
Acerbic, tuneful and quite the finest thing I’ve heard in a while.

9. hed maginnis - January 5, 2013

Happy new year

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