Token resistance

<p>This week's soft launch of electronic books tokens has sharply divided opinion within independent book&shy;sellers; some favour the new system, others complain it is cumbersome, confusing and unwanted.</p>
<p>The letter we ran last week from Sheila O'Reilly at Dulwich Books raised several concerns about the electronic scheme. An internet-accessed PC is required; there are seven extra steps to sell or redeem over the paper variant and the card breaks the link between book tokens and indies, given that people can redeem them anywhere. She concluded that she may well leave the book tokens scheme, and indeed the BA.</p>
<p>The letter kicked off a lively online debate, with some for and some against, and now Willie Anderson, chairman of Book Tokens Ltd, the man ultimately responsible for the change, has responded in print. Patrick Jaff&eacute; at Jaff&eacute; &amp; Neale and Philip Wicks at Yorkshire Books have also both written letters of support we have not had room to print this week.</p>
<p>An electronic version of National Book Tokens was first mooted four years ago and the launch has been twice delayed, but the scheme is finally running (850 transactions on Monday, day one) and there is a sense that dissenting indies will have to like it or lump it. Short of leaving the BA and setting up a rival trade body, of which there have been many mutterings over the years but no decisive action, they have little real choice.</p>
<p>The BA say the introduction of the electronic version was backed by consumer research, but the real proof of that will be if book token turnover, flat at &pound;30m after several years of decline, starts to pick up again. It may well be that the electronic cards are more cumbersome to process, and that extra PC investment will be required, and that some customers will be confused but there is a wider prize that must be considered beyond these considerable teething pains. To just retain paper sends out a message to the world that indies have stopped innovating and are stuck in the past, a disasterous association to create at a time when all bookshops are under so much pressure.</p>
<p>In time, the paper version of the scheme will end although the BA is wary of comitting to a date, even though old tokens will be redeemable indefinitely. What Book Tokens and the BA need to do now though is answer their critics and make real efforts to get every last indie up and running with the scheme&mdash;and if necessary amend it. <br />