Skip to main content


December 14, 2010

What Does Your Perfect Future Bookstore Look Like?

Posted by Dana

iStock_000003983236XSmall.jpgNPR did a story today called "End Of Days For Bookstores? Not If They Can Help It" about how Amazon and the eBook world are affecting the industry and what the future is both for the chain bookstores and for the independents.

There was another very long story in the Boston Review called "Books After Amazon" on essentially the same topic.

And if I've read these two articles, I've read a hundred more over the past year or two.  If you've been paying attention the industry at all, you know it is in major flux.  eBooks are on the rise, the big chain bookstores are struggling, Amazon is fighting with publishers over price issues, self-publishing seems to be on the rise and eReaders are the new hot thing.

And everyone - literally everyone in the industry is weighing in.  But no one really seems to know how this is all going to play out.  And how could they?  No one has a crystal ball.  They are all just watching the trends and trying their best to stay up to date and offer their readers and customers the right things.

So all of this got me thinking... how do I want this all to turn out?  And how do YOU want it all to turn out?  If I could create the perfect future for books and bookselling from a reader's perspective, what would it be?

I suppose this may be different for all of us, depending on where we live, our age, how comfortable we are with gadgets, how much we like to online or offline shop, etc.  But I think maybe one problem the industry is having is we can't picture the perfect solution.

So let's try and work this out - or at least get a start on it.

  1. Physical Bookstores - YES

    I love browsing in a bookstore, so I would hate to see that experience go away.  And I don't care how good an app you make, it's not the same as browsing idly in a shop.
  2. Indy vs. Chain - WHY NOT BOTH?

    Look, I used to own an independent bookstore, so of course I'm a bit partial, but as a reader, I can see the need for both.  Though perhaps the days of the huge superstore could come to an end?  I'm guessing that the huge spaces, and the huge amount of inventory they have to hold and the large staff they have to employ are in large part what is killing them.  

    In a way, I think Indies are better situated to incorporate downloadable eBooks as part of their offering.  It makes not having all that inventory on hand less of a big deal. 

    But then if the chain's did go smaller - would they be in direct competition with the indies?

    I clearly don't have the answer here, but as a reader, what I want is the convenience of having lots of bookstores wherever I happen to be shopping.  If that means some combination of chains and indies.  I'm okay with it.  That's how restaurant world is and it seems to work okay.
  3. eReaders? - YES

    They're the wave of the present and future.  They're not going away.  I don't have one yet, but I'd like to.  I like the idea of less clutter in the house and I like the idea of them for traveling.
  4. Phsyical Books?  - YES

    I still want to be able to collect my favorites and have them decorating my shelves.  I still want something I can get signed and I still want special books I can pass on to my friends or my child.
  5. Proprietary eReaders - NO

    Booo Kindle.  I get what Amazon was going for there.  And it's clearly working for them.  But hopefully this proprietary thing will die out.  I want a reader that is more like my DVD player at home.  It should be able to work with any eBook I buy from anywhere.  (I feel this way about cell phones too, btw).
  6. Access to new authors and publishers continuing to pursue literary greatness - YES!

    It is so important that publishers and writers both make money on this whole deal.  No matter how much I want a good deal on a book, I recognize that if they don't get paid, I ultimately won't get the kind of books I want.  I'm not saying they have to be gazillionaires, but there has to be some margin in this product so the publishers AND booksellers AND authors can make money and publishers can invest in discovering new talent.

    Let Amazon make their money on high margin items like tube socks and televisions but let's hope the industy as a whole can come up with a better way for everyone to win.

    And not to get too preachy here, but if you think about it books are still one of the cheapest form of entertainment around for the amount of hours of enjoyment they provide so as consumers, perhaps we shouldn't change our price expectations.

As I go through all of these items I start to get a picture in my mind. 

It's a cozy neighborhood bookstore that sells both new and used books AND has eBooks available at a download station in the store and also on their website and their Indy Bookstore phone app.  I browse the shelves while drinking their yummy coffee and get advice from the book loving owner on what is new and what I might like.  When I check out, I end up purchasing one physical book to read in bed  and downloading several titles onto my magical non-proprietary device to take on my imaginary cruise around the world.  The prices are the same there as they would be anywhere else, so not only do I feel good about supporting my local store, I had fun being there.  

Heaven. right?

What's your vision?  Can we get there from here?

-- Dana Barrett, Contributing Editor