Barnsley: bookshops could charge for browsing

HarperCollins c.e.o. Victoria Barnsley has said the idea of the bookshop as a book club, charging for browsing, is "not that insane", given the level of threat faced by the general bookshop.

Barnsley was speaking to broadcaster Evan Davis on BBC Radio 4's "The Bottom Line"  on Saturday (9th February), alongside literary agent Jonny Geller and Kobo's Michael Tamblyn, in an investigation of the future of publishing.

Barnsley predicted that the level of digital e-book sales would "level off and end up being more like 50/50 [physical books and e-books] for quite some time, if the physical bookshops survive". But she said the survival of the physical bookshop was "the big question". "Readers still do quite like physical books, the question is, will they be able to buy them, actually," she told Davis.

Citing a reported figure that only 35% of fiction in the UK is bought through a physical bookshop, Barnsley commented: "They are under enormous pressure," suggesting that asking customers to "pay for the privilege of browsing" was not an insane concept in the current environment. Certain shoeshops in the US are already charging customers to try on shoes, she noted.

E-book pricing was also discussed, with Geller describing the 20p e-book phenomenon as "a real danger for all of us", commenting: "If you're going to pay 20p for Life of Pi, which is a film, why would you ever pay £1?"

Barnsley said there was a major debate within the industry over DRM, commenting: "If you don't have it, the risk is that there's a lot of sharing . . . [but] keeping it on allows retailers like Amazon to continue running their walled gardens which is not a good thing."