Booksellers hate technology, don't they?
After all, bookshops are about the physicality of the book, with booksellers pressing them into customers hands, talking about them passionately, face-to-face. They are about the customer experience in a physical space where books serve as both backdrop and inspiration to authentic human interaction.
Well, not quite.
Booksellers use technology all the time. Stock control, Batch, real-time ordering and next day delivery. We identify, locate and order an unimaginable range of books at the click of the button. But even if we send a text or email to notify customers when their order arrives the next day, we still like to bring the book out with a flourish even before the customer has reached the counter.
Often the technology stays hidden. It's as if we are slightly ashamed of it, or would prefer to pretend that bookselling has an element of magic to it.
In recent years, we have perhaps also been guilty of rationalising our very human instinct to resist change by setting ourselves against technology. Because technology represents the impersonal, optimised and crushing efficiency of the Internet. And nothing exemplifies that better than nasty ole' Amazon.
We have - perhaps - resisted technology because we are resisting the end of personalised shopping, the gutting of our communities and the destruction of the High Street. Technology has become the proxy in the war of the Internet versus the Bookshop.
But the truth is, our customers have been changing for years. In our heart of hearts, we've known this. Many of them prefer to shop online, text us for recommendations or order by Twitter.
Our customers, not just the ones using Internet retailers.
American venture capitalist Mike Maples, Jr explains how technology tipping points occur. The breakthrough technology itself is only one side of the equation. You also need a big enough group of people to adopt it. Typically this is when it becomes cheap enough, but tipping points occur in other ways too.
Times of crisis accelerate adoption. We suddenly have to use whatever is lying around.
Recent weeks have witnessed such a 'great acceleration', with rapid adoption of technology for remote working, shopping and communicating. When grandparents get on Zoom, kids choose which lessons to watch and bricklayers monitor their blood oxygen levels, bang: welcome to a new normal - built on platforms that have taken decades to emerge.
Bookshops are now going to have to re-open into this world. So what technology tools are lying around to allow us to 'carry on as normal’?
Many booksellers have already picked up some of these tools, showing remarkable courage when the instinct must have been to simply run, hide and wait it out. And what do you know? Getting stock on websites wasn’t quite as tricky as we thought, and new customers have arrived as a reward. Authors and bookgroups have been up for virtual events, and bookshops have used everything from taking orders via social media to virtual 'Zoom' tours of their shops to keep that connection with their reading communities.
This is the new normal. All of us need to step up and align with the pace of adoption that our customers have undergone.
The difference is that we will be using technology to leverage and extend the independent bookselling experience, in all its quirkiness, uniqueness - and inefficiency. All underpinned by a promise that - when the time is right - we will welcome customers back to our physical spaces, and that the authentic bookshop experience will still be here.
We need to use technology to leverage the best of our bookshops. Because independent bookshops are not simply about getting books into the hands of readers, any more than Greggs is about getting a sausage roll into someone's mouth.
We get the right books into readers hands. We curate and recommend, and in doing so grow reading communities for everyone's benefit. We mesh and enhance customers lifestyles, and help make life that little bit better for them. We extend the horizons of children and we show leadership on the High Street. In short, we create extraordinary value for our customers and communities.
In her book 'Hello World', mathematician and science presenter Hannah Fry claims that one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century will be to 'stay human' in the face of ever more efficient and optimised technology.
The way we do that is to ensure that we always have humans in the loop. This is the antithesis of big tech, which optimizes and uses algorithms and artificial intelligence to remove humans as they wring every last drop of efficiency out of the market in a grim battle to the death.
Well, things have changed and the world has fragmented. Mark Carney, former governor of the Bank of England, has stated that society will prize local resilience over global efficiency for the foreseeable future.
But in order for our businesses to survive, this isn't quite enough. For our staff and customers to stay safe, we are going to have to use more technology. Little 'touches of tech' will be needed to allow customers to talk to us, engage with us, order - and collect - remotely, safely and securely.
Customers are desperate to have reasons to support local businesses. But we have to meet them part of the way. We no longer have the luxury of touting our technophobia as a badge of honour.
The rewards can be huge. What a delight for customers - old and new - to discover you can still have a relationship with an indie remotely (particularly for those that have no local independent). That you can browse stock on line, discover curated reads and receive a personal recommendation from a friendly human - albeit one extended by appropriate technology.
In the hands of the 'optimizers', technology is indeed a bad master. In the hands of passionate humans, with independent, unique businesses, rooted in our communities - it's a powerful servant.
Now is the time to realise that it’s not technology killing high streets. Amazon may have taught us to hate technology, but we need to fall in love with it again.