During Independent Bookshop Week, Rachel Letby, Director of Crail Consulting, looks at the parallels between the challenges faced by independent booksellers and accountancy practices with the introduction of Making Tax Digital.

When Amazon began to grow and started to take a significant portion of the book sellers’ market, many foresaw the death of independent booksellers. “How can they compete on price and variety?” was the refrain. Indeed, many booksellers, both large and small, did go under as a result.

However recently there’s been a growing recognition that there is a place for independent bookshops alongside the likes of Amazon. Indeed, sales of hardbacks have grown alongside sales of the Kindle. Why is that?

My view is that the alarmists were using a single lens when they foresaw doom and gloom. Of course, readers want access to as wide a variety of books as possible. Of course, they don’t want to pay more than they need to.

However, my view is that there is further lens that can be used. Many readers also want advice about books … “I like this author; can you suggest someone comparable?” “What have you enjoyed that, knowing me, you think I might enjoy?” “I have no idea where to start looking on this subject, what do you suggest?” In this digital age, readers still want somewhere where they can spend time choosing and holding books, randomly flicking through actual pages. Somewhere they can pause in a busy life and relax. In other words – excuse the pun – the human touch. Contact with another human being with whom you have a relationship based on an enjoyment of reading. Something that the likes of Amazon can only palely imitate.

This means that there is a place in the world for both the Amazons and the independent booksellers. It’s just that they have different roles to fill and different customer experiences to provide.
Similarly, with Making Tax Digital (MTD), this is an opportunity for accountancy practices to take a step back and ask themselves what customer experiences they want to provide their clients with. One lens, comparable to the Amazon experience, will be where some clients may want a straightforward transactional experience. For example: “here are my numbers, please sort them out with HMRC for me”. Another lens, like an independent bookseller, is where others may appreciate – and be willing to pay for – advice that will help them to manage their finances more effectively.

It is also an opportunity for those working within accountancy practices to ask themselves what they want themselves. With freed up time from better use of technology, do they want to grow their client base, say, or start working fewer hours to get a better work/ life balance, for example?
There has been much negative talk about MTD due to the significant changes involved. But if we look at it in a positive way, it also provides incredible opportunities to make changes that build on strengths. Accountants have an opportunity to provide an offering to clients which builds on the notion of ‘going the extra mile’ and providing a much more personal service. Similarly the independent bookseller and Amazon have very different offerings, but in our digital world I believe, as do many others, there is still a place for the personal touch.

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