By Elizabeth Davies
Since I was about ten I’ve been an avid reader. English was my subject through high school and university and my bookshelves are filled with everything from the classics to teen fiction, murder mysteries and chick lit. They have become like old friends, comforting, inspiring, hilarious and beautiful, each one a treasured possession.
I remember spending hours on end in the basement level of Queen Street’s Borders browsing through book after book to find the absolutely perfect addition to my little family, ( because I could only ever afford one ).
But now Borders is gone, replaced by a greasy Carl’s Junior, and mini golf. It’s becoming rare to see someone on a bus, nose buried in a book, engrossed in the lives being lived on its pages. Now everyone is scrolling through an e-reader, or more likely, playing candy crush or perusing Facebook.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a bit of a luddite, technology isn’t really my friend and I crave the rough feeling of paper against skin and the smell of a book, old or new. A good book deserves to be held, to be displayed with pride.
Last week global giant Amazon put one more nail in the coffin of traditional book stores with its release of the Fire Phone. The Fire Phone includes an app called Firefly which allows users to identify things the user points their camera at, from fine art to you guessed it, books.
In theory this app is brilliant, you can scan a piece of art and be led to a Wikipedia page full of information on the piece. Firefly has huge educational potential, however it also has the potential to destroy small business.
Firefly is a massive enabler of ‘showrooming’ the practice of customers going into a store, handling the physical product, asking the staff questions about it, deciding if they want it, then going to Amazon to buy it cheaper.
Retail stores have a number of costs to cover, from staff salaries to rent and fit out. It’s these costs that account for their slightly higher prices. Apps like this allow the customer to benefit from all the advantages of a physical shopping experience without the slightly higher price tag.
Stores may be forced to make drastic cuts meaning cheap fit outs and weaker service. The app could go so far as completely killing businesses leaving no helpful staff to recommend the perfect coming of age novel, and no indulgent long afternoons in beautiful bookshops.
In my opinion it’s a case of just because you can do something with technology that doesn’t mean you should. Amazon is already a hugely dominant retail force, does it have to add insult to injury, piggybacking on the specialty knowledge of another company’s staff?
Simply put, Firefly makes me sad, Amazon makes me angry. There is no doubt that the technology is brilliant. But I can’t help but focus not on what we may gain through this new development, but all the things we stand to lose.
(This site is kind of an awesome sign that some people still prefer a good old book).
Elizabeth Davies is a 24 year-old graduate of the Auckland University of Technology post graduate journalism course. She lives with her partner in Epsom and spends her free time refurbishing vintage furniture and attempting to bake while fighting a daily battle against her bank balance. She writes a weekly article for interest.co.nz on money matters and financial struggles from a young person's perspective.