We often hear about the Technological Singularity: The moment when machine intelligence becomes better than human intelligence and the biological transcends into the digital world - ideas popularised by authors such as Vernor Vinge and Charles Stross. But a new type of socio-cultural Singularity has been waiting in the wings and out of the blue - or shall I say out of the black and white - has struck. Waterstones - or big W if their January press release is anything to go by - new agreement with Amazon marks the beginning of the Pulpable Singularity: The moment when physically being in a bookshop becomes a transcendental digital experience.
So what can we expect from the Pulpable Singularity? Phrases being shhh'd in the library include:
"The best digital readers, the Kindle family, will be married to the singular pleasures of browsing a curated bookshop. With the combination of our talents we can offer the exceptional customer proposition to which we both aspire."
(James Daunt: Waterstones press release)
And my personal favourite:
"The new agreement will see Waterstones staff embrace digital book fans in store"
(Melanie Hick, HuffPost UK)
In my mind, images of spotty greeters at big W's entrance enquiring 'to which plain of interpretation do you wish to browse today' where you are then directed into some cyberpunk sprawl nightmare where dark towering columns of rotting paperbacks stretch out into oblivion from a bright digital center where digital browsers are encouraged to enter some sort of mediative tantric state, chanting:
'Cometh Penguin, Titan, Stephen King. Calling Atwood, Orwell and Rudyard Kipling'.
While smiley shop assistants in 'e-ssistance' t-shirts guide users on a journey to find that book which pings ones digital soul.
Now, excuse my nightmarish take on what is probably a move that will ensure the survival of big W and stop it going the way of Books & Boarders, and HMV but I am not sure how it is going to work. WIll big W slowly turn into the equivalent of a car show room. 'Display Only' copies on the shelf for one to peruse? Will the price of e-books raise since their cost will undoubtedly have to include a margin to help pay the running costs of an actual physical bookshop?
I am a reader and a Kindle owner, I have seen the demise of music and book shops on the high street. Going digital is not the answer W is looking for. The nature of the Singularity, of any Singularity results in the eventual destruction of historical preservation of the former. Books will be around for as long as there are trees to pulp and people with imaginations, but this moment marks either the first big W death rattle or the wail of an Amerstones abomination.
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