The British Library has been accused of undermining struggling independent book shops by piloting a website initiative that redirects visitors to Amazon to purchase titles.
The library's online catalogue lists more than 13 million of the more than 150 million titles owned by the library. The website's newly refurbished search system now offers browsers the option of clicking on "This item in amazon.co.uk", which redirects users to a page where they can buy a copy of the book from the online retailer.
The move has caused concern among high-street retailers because Amazon, which buys in huge quantities, is able to sell titles at a significantly reduced price.
James Daunt, managing director of Waterstone's, told The Bookseller: "It's disappointing, to say the least, that a very British institution is driving readers away from local libraries and high- street bookshops. In an environment where high-street booksellers and libraries face huge pressures, it is a shame that the British Library choose to give their endorsement to one aggressively commercial organisation."
Johnny de Falbe, co-owner of London's Sandoe bookshop, said: "The British Library, a public institution, should not be offering this link to Amazon, which is not – last I heard – a public institution.
And if the British Library, of all people, are not supporting British bookshops, and positively steering business away from independents, then why should anyone else have any faith, or interest, in independents?" A spokesman for the library said the new system was at a pilot stage. The software purchased for the new search functions can link only to Amazon, but the library insists it does not make any revenue from the redirects. The spokesman said: "The library is reviewing the success of this service."
The revelation comes at a time when independent book stores are declining as customers buy hard-copy purchases online or download e-books to read on handheld devices and tablets.
Earlier this month, the Booksellers Association launched a campaign calling on the Government to do more to help high-street retailers survive. Tim Godfray, the association's CEO, said shops with a cultural and educational value should be have their business rates reduced to prevent community hubs from becoming ghost towns.
High-street retailers have long complained that Amazon's aggressive price-cutting puts their industry at risk. The rapid rise of tablet computers and affordable e-readers is likely to have a further impact. Earlier this month Google launched its eBookstore in the UK. The service, which has been operating in the US for five months, allows people to downloadbooks to read on devices that use its Android software.
Vigil mounted to keep doors open
Campaigners in north-west London are holding a round-the-clock vigil to prevent Brent Council boarding up a library.
Around 100 Save Kensal Rise Library supporters gather daily at Kensal Rise Library and two people camp out nightly to protect the building.
A 24-hour library has also been set up. Protester Alex Canneti, 51, said: "We'll keep going until we get some kind of agreement to keep the library open. We'll remain as long as is necessary."Reuse content