You’ve read it a bazillion times: brick and mortar bookstores are in trouble. The causes aren’t hard to see. E-reader sales are booming and offering titles at (generally) lower cost than their print counterparts. Online bookstores are thriving by offering variety and low prices that the physical stores simply can’t match.
E-books and online sellers aren’t going away, nor should they. E-readers offer portability and affordable – often very affordable – reading options. And as e-books develop, there are exciting possibilities for animation, video, and other interactive elements to be included that enhance the reading experience which print books can’t do. The relatively low price for an e-book also gives good authors who might otherwise be overlooked on the crowded bookstore shelf a shot at being read. Online bookstores are convenient, cheap (relatively) and can offer a nearly infinite showroom of titles. Even the biggest mall anchor store can’t do that.
However, there is still a place for brick and mortar; a vital one even, and not just for browsing before going home to buy cheaper online. There will still be people who do that (You’ve done it. I’ve done it. We’ve all done it.). People LOVE bookstores. There’s a feel to a bookstore you don’t get at a clothing store or the drug store or in front of your own computer at home. A bookstore is devoted to ideas; to dreams; to possibilities. And a bookstore is full of people, like you, who love to explore. There are countless worlds on the shelves of bookstores; untold life stories waiting to be shared.
But those lives are fading as the walls come tumbling down. And it’s not just the independent sellers. The entire Borders chain fizzled. Who’s next? Something’s got to change. BOOKSTORES have to change. And I don’t just mean widening the DVD section and adding nuts to the brownies in the coffee bar.
The bookstore of the future won’t be a BOOK store at all. It will be a BOOK EXPERIENCE store. Anymore, you can buy a book anywhere. That won’t be the focus anymore, though, of course, the stores will still sell them. The focus will be on giving you – for a price – an event that surrounds your purchase, an event you can’t get online.
You walk in to any bookstore now and you see row upon row of print titles, a few moderately comfy chairs and the coffee area somewhere off to the side. In the future, the coffee area and the chairs will BE the store. Instead of row upon row of library-esque shelving, you’ll see brightly lit flat panel touch pads, displaying the covers of any book you search for with the wave of a hand. The panels will offer multimedia presentations about the books – animation, music, book trailers, whatever. Brought your favorite e-reader with you? Buy that book right there on the spot. (It won’t matter what flavor you prefer. In the future, Barnes & Noble isn’t going to turn away your Kindle – just charge a fee like when you use your debit card at a “foreign” ATM) Pull up a chair and a coffee and have a read.
Sure, all that you could get online. But the physical store will offer you the chance to be around other readers. Formally organized and impromptu book clubs will be meeting ALL THE TIME. Writers’ workshops. READER’s workshops. (A lot of writers are confused about the difference between a “literary novel” and an “upmarket commercial novel”. Know what? So are readers. Why not teach them?) Bookstores will more aggressively RECRUIT authors for signings and readings. If you’re not a big name author, you have to BEG to get a time slot most of the time. In the future, that won’t be a problem. Online booksellers can’t put you in the same room with the person who wrote your favorite book of all time or the one that just might become your favorite book soon. Brick and mortar stores can.
“Harry Potter” and “Twilight” type book release parties won’t be the exception at the new book experience stores; they will be standard operating procedure for any unique or popular title – theme parties, food and music inspired by the work, all sorts of tie-ins that are fun and that make money for the store.
A lot of these things won’t be free; fees to rent the room, tickets to see the author, etc. But they will become events in and of themselves beyond just marketing ploys to get you into the store.
But, of course, an author can’t sign an e-book. (Well, yes, electronic signatures and all that, but that’s a little impractical for a book signing at this point – and nowhere near as special.) Plus, a lot of readers, including me, don’t want to give up print books. I love my e-reader, but I also love my print books. The world gets along with many religions; with Coke AND Pepsi; with Democrats and Republicans (They struggle a bit with that last one, but we try.) The world will go on happily with books in digital and print formats.
And so, somewhere in your kid’s bookstore, there will still be a few good, old-fashioned shelves and printed books. Mostly bestsellers, but also local interest books. Independent publishers will find a, perhaps unexpected, home in these reinvented bookstores as well. In the current book-buying world, anyone can find a Stephen King book online. Finding the really cool sounding book by that guy you met at the library last week is a little harder. Bookstores of the future, ironically, might become the best friend of the indie publishers, not the exclusive, gated community that has largely shunned them for years.
And, finally, not to get too specific, but MY kid’s future bookstore will have LOTS of Thomas the Tank Engine books. Because, well, that’s how he rolls. Your results may vary.
Keep reading in whatever form you choose, but don’t forget all the good times you had at your local bookseller. Stop by there and say “hi” too.