The Bookseller notes that office and school supplies powerhouse Viking – presumably striking out in a jealous rage over someone else doing all the looting and pillaging generally associated with its brand name – has begun selling books alongside the brightly coloured pens and economy-sized jars of coffee that have somehow become the bright spots of your day in this hollow shell you call ‘life’. It’s all part of the company’s plan to become ‘a one-stop shop for businesses and consumers,’ but all available evidence suggests that, despite its ’21 years of experience’ and ‘fast, free delivery on offers over £36,’ maybe Viking doesn’t really understand what the internet is or how people use it.
Let’s say, in the realm of one-stop shops, Amazon is the digital equivalent of Tesco: everyone you know has, at some point, shopped there, and many probably shop there regularly. It carries some form of everything you might need. It’s convenient. It might not care much about local or independent retailers, but its sheer ubiquity and the power that entails allows it to sell some form of everything you might need at cut-throat prices, with price checks in place to make sure it is never knowingly undercut. Maybe one day it’ll declare war on the internet equivalent of Denmark.
Unfortunately for Viking – and, again, not helped by the associations raised by its brand name – in this instance it probably is the internet equivalent of Denmark. It certainly has no hope of competing against the one-click buying behemoth. If Amazon is online Tesco, then the non-office supplies section of Viking, so far at least, is an online train station or airport – a prohibitively priced, limited selection that customers might buy because, ech, they’re there already and might as well chuck in a couple of paperbacks alongside that sweet ergonomic mesh chair they’ve been eyeing up for a while.
The site’s current bestsellers chart – a full fifth of which, incidentally, is listed as currently out of stock – certainly suggests that that attitude has been adopted by those who have stumbled upon it so far, with the zeitgeisty likes of One Day and The Help rubbing shoulders with several cookbooks, The Highway Code and, for some reason, Of Mice and Men. The pricing structure, however, seems aimed at people who haven’t yet figured out what the search bar at the top of their browser does, and are quite content to pay £6.39 for John Grisham’s The Confession even though a couple of clicks could give it to them for £3.84.
Of course, nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the public, as they say. But looking beyond books, it’s doubtful even the most newly-converted luddite will pay, say, £33.59 for a copy of Black Swan on Blu-Ray or £21.59 for a DVD of The Tourist without twigging that they’re being fleeced.
The whole concept of internet shopping – whether for books, office furniture, whatever – has largely done away with the need for a one-stop shop: a quick search can turn up both the cheapest price on anything imaginable and specialists who can provide the most arcane information on any given topic, from any corner of the world. If Viking really wants to make a go of its newly-discovered zeal for books (if zeal is the right word, which, again, it almost certainly isn’t) and become just such a one-stop shop, then it’s going to have to learn a few lessons from its biggest competitor, however ugly they may be. Whilst it would be nice to have a similarly-sized rival to block an Amazonian monopoly, this, so far, is not it.