Are our local shopping centres doomed by technology?

The geography of surnames in the US (click)

In an interesting article on Crikey, Guy Rundle riffs off the Borders bankruptcy to ask if technological change will inevitably destroy local strip shopping centres:

The whole centrality of the shop is changing. It is no longer a necessary place, and so the high street no longer acts as the spatial core of a community. At some point a whole series of mainstream shops will succumb to insufficient, intermittent demand. Everyone will want to know they are there, but no-one will use them enough.

Whether Borders succumbed to poor management, competition from e-commerce, the dead hand of the parallel importing restrictions, or the fall-off in consumer spending, there’s no question that the nature of shopping is changing profoundly.

For example, I bought my first lot of ten novels from Amazon back in 1994 and have purchased many more books from various on-line retailers since. Whenever I have the option, I now download e-books to read on my e-reader in preference to hard copies.

I started home-banking in 1994 and now visit the bank maybe four times a year max (I hate being paid by cheque!). My wife and I have bought so much stuff on eBay we have Turquoise Star status. The household increasingly downloads movies via T-Box rather than hire DVDs and all our music is purchased through iTunes. We book our travel on-line and even negotiated the purchase of a car over the net.

Guy Rundle foresees that these sorts of changes will extend to the local supermarket and beyond, driven by improvements in on-line ordering and home delivery. I expect that once the public has confidence the problems with e-commerce – like affordable and secure home delivery and safe payment systems – have been overcome, many people will surely choose to use their time for higher value activities than routine consumer shopping.

Mr Rundle fears that if the boring but essential services like supermarkets are lost to the high street, then specialist stores like bookshops that rely on passing trade from ‘anchor tenants’ will also go under. He says:

The wider question, in terms of future life, is how we will sustain any form of public spatial life at all – as the last shared, necessary space dissolves

I don’t think the high street is in any imminent danger. It’s likely to change but I doubt it will die. Not all the changes will necessarily be bad. Read the rest of this entry »


Is the Kobo cool?

My household acquired the new Border’s e-reader, Kobo, on the weekend. The Kobo was released on Wednesday and with the dollar crashing to below 80c at one point on Friday I figured it might be now or never.

There’s no particular connection to Melbourne or to urbanism in this article but as this is the first time I’ve ever been a real early-adopter, I thought I’d share my experience. Perhaps my rationale can be that I’ve always had a page on this blog titled My Reading.

This’ll be a brief review because I haven’t really had much time to look at it, but based on my (limited) experience over the weekend and my wife’s slightly more extended experience, here are the pros and cons of the Kobo (which BTW I take to be an anagram of “book”?). Bear in mind that we only intend to use the Kobo for reading fiction.

On the pro side:

First, it’s very cheap – just A$199. It was released on Wednesday so I don’t know if there’re any left. Its closest rival, the Kindle, is US$249 and you have to wait for delivery.

Second, you can buy it over the counter. I got this one at Borders Carlton on Friday night. I’m a big user of e-commerce but having bricks and mortar to deal with is always preferable.

Third, it really is like reading paper. The screen isn’t lit by light like an LCD but uses a technology like the Etch A Sketch. It’s very easy on the eyes compared to a computer screen or an iPhone. There is a choice of two fonts and five type sizes – I expect the range will increase as the software is revised. Read the rest of this entry »