Sticking an ever so dignified and respectable two fingers up at Amazon, beloved London bookseller Foyles has this week launched an ebook store and accompanying apps. The venerable, iconic independent chain – with five branches in London and one in Bristol, for the more adventurous metropolitan – already has over 200,000 titles on offer, which is presumably more than are contained even in its flagship five-floored Charing Cross Road shop.
The shop provides a series of free to download apps through the estore that allow its ebooks to be read on Apple and Android devices, making access to the books, in the words of c.e.o. Sam Husain, ‘as easy as possible, without the added expense of having to buy new hardware.’ Android users can also buy books from the estore directly through their app, but Apple’s strict control-freakery – the same neuroticism that keeps you from being able to check out stupid cat videos on YouTube on your iPad – means you can browse on your phone but have to get yourself to a real computer to download anything.
Whilst you can then transfer your purchases to your phone or iPad, Amazon’s similarly paranoid restrictions (notice a trend here amongst the megaliths?) mean that you won’t be able to read anything you buy from Foyles on a Kindle. Conversely, Foyles are offering a free ‘My eBooks’ service that allows users to store every ebook they own – regardless of provenance – in one place online, accessible anywhere with an internet connection.
This is all encouraging news on several fronts. For one thing, it signals a willingness amongst emergent ebook retailers to engage in more open and inclusive practices than Amazon has demonstrated so far. For another, it positions Foyles as a viable alternative to Amazon, one with over a century of experience in bookselling with an established customer base who may be willing to follow it where a Kindle couldn’t lead them. Most of all, though, the comparatively slight overheads of an ebook operation mean that all profits can be channelled back towards maintaining their brick and mortar shops for those who still enjoy getting lost amongst the stacks. Win-win-win.