Thursday. 28/10/2021

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Chiara Rimella

Prime target

I’m often singing the praises of independent bookshops. I talk about the joy of running fingers through the first few pages of a title you’ve yet to read; of the sense of both calm and discovery that I feel the moment I step into a well-appointed space. I’m lucky: Monocle’s London office sits less than five minutes away from what’s probably London’s best bookshop, Daunt Books (pictured). And a brand-new, pint-sized retailer called Crofton Books has just opened down my road, giving me hope for the future of such establishments.

And yet the feel-good factor, as fundamental as it is, can only go so far in ensuring their survival. Some European governments have decided to get involved to ensure that Amazon doesn’t gobble up all of the market share. Countries such as Italy have introduced caps on the discount that can be applied to new books to avoid Amazon slashing its prices too extensively. France is going one step further: its parliament has backed a new law setting a minimum cost for the shipment of books, though the amount is still to be defined. The rule should even the playing field, given that Amazon sends out many of its books for €0.01 while the indies charge an average of €7 for delivery.

Amazon has complained that this new law will disadvantage those living in rural areas, who don’t have easy access to physical bookshops. Still, for those people, buying from Amazon will only hinder any future chances of a small bookshop opening nearby. It’s a tussle between accessibility and cost. Nobody should be priced out of buying a book. But are we sure that the only way to get your hands on a book on the cheap is to have it delivered next-day in a brown envelope? If you can afford to do otherwise, it certainly isn’t the worthiest.

Image: Getty Images

Diplomacy / Afghanistan

Neighbourhood watch

Foreign ministers from five of Afghanistan’s neighbours met in Tehran yesterday to discuss a united approach to the country’s Taliban rule, joined by video link by officials from China and Russia. Iran’s foreign ministry was firm that any acceptable government must “reflect the demographic and ethnic composition of Afghanistan”. Such calls for inclusivity challenge the stark lack of representation in the current administration of many of Afghanistan’s ethnic groups or, indeed, of any women at all. UN secretary-general António Guterres addressed the meeting, voicing concerns about the looming “humanitarian crisis” and saying that the UN is working with the Taliban to deliver emergency aid. China, which expressed an interest in hosting future talks on the subject and has also promised aid to Afghanistan, said that “the Taliban is eager to have a dialogue with the world”. As with Afghanistan’s neighbours, the world will have plenty to say in response.

Tune in to the latest edition of ‘The Monocle Daily’ on Monocle 24 for a discussion of the Tehran summit with Lynne O’Donnell, journalist and former Kabul bureau chief for AP and AFP.

Image: Shutterstock

Migration / Venezuela & Colombia

Crossing the line

Colombia is preparing for a fresh influx of migrants from neighbouring Venezuela following a decision by the leftist government in Caracas to reopen its side of their vast shared border. The 2,200km crossing was closed unilaterally by Venezuela, preventing its own citizens from leaving, following political tensions in 2019; Colombia’s right-wing government closed its own borders a year later due to the pandemic but reopened them in June.

Despite the closure, the Andean nation has remained the top destination for those wishing to flee Venezuela. “Colombia already hosts about two million Venezuelans,” Anastasia Moloney, Monocle’s correspondent in Bogotá, told Monocle 24’s The Briefing. “Even though the border has been closed for three years on the Venezuelan side, migration has never really stopped. The reopening signals that Colombia and Venezuela are starting to talk to each other. But political differences remain and it’s not an indication that they are best friends again.”

Media / Hong Kong

Shutting up shop

Amnesty International announced this week that it is leaving Hong Kong because the city’s national security law has made it “effectively impossible” to operate there. Amnesty has two offices in the city: one is the group’s Asia-Pacific hub and the other focuses on human-rights education. The latter will close on Sunday and the regional office will shut by the end of this year. The London-based human-rights organisation said that the law, which Beijing implemented in June 2020, has created an “unstable environment” where local and international civil society groups fear “serious reprisals from the government”. True to form, Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, responded on Tuesday that there was “no way that one could prove” that Amnesty was leaving because of the security law. But the reality is that numerous pro-democracy groups, trade unions and other organisations have disbanded in the months since the law took effect, a clear rebuke to the Lam government’s insistence that freedoms of speech and assembly are as protected as ever.

Image: Getty Images

Fashion / France

Loan of best fit

As luxury fashion brands across the globe grapple with increasing competition from resale and rental sites, Puig-owned house Jean Paul Gaultier fought back by launching its own rental service yesterday. The first 50 items, which will be rotated on loan from its 30,000-piece archive, include icons from the 1980s and 1990s, such as the conical bra made famous by Madonna (pictured). The brand, known for its founder’s signature personal look of breton tops paired with punk-ish kilts, has found new popularity with a younger generation that is buying its Y2K fashion on sites such as Depop and Vestiaire Collective. It’s a smart move considering research by US firm Rent the Runway, which claims that 20 per cent of the retail market will be rental by 2025. But will the vintage offering cannibalise sales from the brand’s less-affordable ready-to-wear collections? Other luxury names will be watching to see whether this pioneering effort gains traction.

M24 / Monocle on Design

Design Week Lagos

We meet the founder of Design Week Lagos and hear about a collaboration between celebrated lamp-maker Anglepoise and the UK’s National Trust. Plus: some words of wisdom on retail design from Joana Astolfi.

Monocle Films / Global

Media on the move

We visit two bold companies finding canny ways to pivot their product for changing audiences. Transhelvetica, a Swiss magazine, and Spiritland, a London-based hospitality and audio venture, are each shaping the media landscape for the better.

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