Nathan Bransford, Author

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Can Bookstores and E-books Coexist?

Photo of Shakespeare & Company by Alexandre Duret-Lutz via a Creative Commons License

As you may be able to tell from the references to rice farming in my bio, I grew up in a really small town: 5,000 people, a handful of restaurants, two grocery stores, a one-screen movie theater, and two stoplights that only operated during school hours (after I moved away they put in one that operates 24 hours - you don't know the excitement). And it's not like this was a suburb. The nearest town, seven miles away, had a whopping 700 people. My hometown is the biggest town in a county that's 3/4 the size of Rhode Island.

And because it was such a small town we didn't have a bookstore. The closest one was a tiny mall store in a town 30 miles away that was invariably staffed by surly teenagers and very rarely had what young Nathan was looking for. I got by on the books my parents had bought for my older siblings, the armfuls I'd grab when the book fair came to town, and whatever they had at the local library.

Combine this with a generally pro-future attitude and I think you'll see why my mind continues to be blown that, thanks to the wonders of the Internet, we now have access to pretty much every book you could ever want to read. You don't even have to talk to a bored teenager to get them.

But don't get me wrong - I love bookstores!! Love love love. I'm eternally grateful to Bloomsbury Books in Ashland, OR for introducing me to David Eddings, I loved my pilgrimage to Elliott Bay in Seattle, and I always stop by Borderlands in San Francisco whenever I'm looking for science fiction (especially if Ripley the hairless alien cat is in). Bookstores are hugely important, and I don't want them to go away.

Much as Mike Shatzkin recently expressed in a recent post, I'm a bit torn between my love of e-books and my love of bookstores. Selfishly, I want the best of both worlds. I want the convenience of e-books without inadvertently killing off the places that host author readings, who nurture local talent, serve as community centers, and introduce readers to authors they might not have heard about otherwise.

Opinions vary on the extent to which we can have both worlds. Shatzkin sees the conflict between e-books and bookstores as essentially zero sum, in a comment on Shatzkin's post Kassia Krozser of Booksquare says it's not zero sum and they can coexist provided bookstores embrace both print and digital, and independent booksellers Christin Evans and Praveen Madan recently chided the press for treating the demise of bookstores as an inevitability rather than taking a hard look at the fact that, among other things, after 15 years independent booksellers combined have a digital market share of 0.1%.

There are definitely independent stores who have embraced the Internet (Powell's comes to mind), and if publishers are able to control uniform pricing via the agency model, bookstores may be back to competing on consumer experience rather than pricing. Is this a digital environment in which physical stores could thrive if they embraced the Internet? Or do e-books just further erode the necessity of brick and mortar stores?

I don't pretend to know for sure. Like any consumer, I want it all. I just hope I can get it. Right now I have my feet (and put my dollars) in both worlds. I wonder if that's enough.


Rita said...

Sadly, the era of the local book store may be coming to an end.

Price-wise, they can't compete. And selection is hard to maintain and still generate profit.

Barnes and Noble used to entice me to their space because their displays reminded me of authors and books I just had to read.

But today, Amazon does such a good job of providing choices, good prices and a plethora of reviews, I really don't require much more. Their selection of used books is compelling and the ease of use of the site remarkable.

I read a lot and often feel compelled to download a Kindle offering or purchase a used book at odd hours. Again, Amazon wins the day.

Margaret Yang said...

I'm guessing that in your lifetime, you will have the best of both worlds. (If e-books as they currently exist can be called "best.")

Your kids and grandkids might have something different.

I like the idea of both/and.

Zoë Kirk-Robinson said...

As I mentioned on Twitter just now, I honestly believe the local bookshop has a bright future by embracing the fact that the Internet is here to stay.

I'm not just talking about setting up their own sites to sell their wares online, but also by getting themselves a 'download point' hooked up, so customers can get the latest ebooks direct to their readers; plus maybe throwing in iTunes access for people to get audiobooks (and music, if they want it) too.

T. Anne said...

I hope we never lose the thrill of the bookstore. Costco and the like are no replacement for aisles after aisles of sweet smelling books of all shapes and sizes. On on the other hand I wish every book possible was available on e-book. I guess I want the best of both worlds too.

Joseph said...

I guess that depends on how far down the road you go. The farther down the road, the less likely there are to be brick/mortar bookstores. It's just not a switch that gets flipped. Ebooks are dominant, the end is nigh! No, it'll take some time, but bookstores are cresting the hill and on their way out.

Zoe Winters said...

I think it would be interesting if Bookstores turned into giant coffee shops with the big POD book machines, and really good wireless where you could use your ebook reader to download books. It would be cool if it was just this haven of awesome coffee and pastries and cool book lovers, with events and parties, and differently themed areas. People just don't work very hard to make something really really cool.

If it's cool you never have to worry about people never wanting to go there. The problem is everyone trying to be just like everybody else. "Bookstores" are kind of boring and "been there done that." What if they thought outside the box and made something that was "more." A LOT "more?"

Kristan said...

Maybe it's naive, but I think we CAN have the best of both worlds.

But I don't think either world will look exactly as it does today. The digital landscape will continue to evolve (as we saw this past week or so) and the physical bookstores will have to do the same. Hopefully in both cases, it will be for the better. :)

Josin L. McQuein said...

There could be a future in some sort of fusion between the bookstore and the internet cafe. People could use kiosks to access books, browse titles, etc.

Anonymous said...

I agree! I need them both! However, I find myself spending more money on E-books given my busy schedule! Do I always read my E-books from start to finish...No! I find myself more driven to complete a book I payed full price for from a bookstore.

Max said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Moira Young said...

I'm with Zoë. I think that with the power of the Internet, and with Download terminals where the bookstore would get credit for each on-site download it sells (or for each purchase made through their website), there's a lot of opportunity out there for them to survive.

But maybe this is also a matter of publishers re-taking control of their digital distribution, so that any bookstore *could* sell e-books. Unless I'm way off base here. (I'm thinking in terms of the development of a universal, platform-free format for e-books, even if they still have DRM, so that any bookstore could sell to any platform.)

Max said...

It doesn't have to be a zero sum game. It's not the stock market. That being said, the physical elements of books are associated with the non perishable value of owning them. Of course, you can lose a book, but a digital file is almost an abstract, too. It can be deleted. And people love to display their books. I suspect things might shape up like the photo industry. Some prefer prints (fine art aficionados), but digital dominates the market now.

Anonymous said...

After I got my e-reader, I read a ton of books on it, but now it's gathering dust--I hardly ever use it anymore. Going to the bookstore (or library) is an event for me, something special I look forward to. I love flipping through the new books to find something good to read.

Ordering a book from an online store and reading it on a piece of plastic just ain't the same.

Sadly, my local bookstore is closing next month.

Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

As a children's-YA author, it's been my experience that parents take their kids to the bookstore in part because it's something to do. An activity. A fun, occasionally subversively educational activity. And the vast majority of my teen readers pay cash for their own books. For the most part, their parents don't turn them loose with credit cards on the Internet.

Mira said...

I like what you, Zoe and Josin said, Nathan. Bookstores could become more of a gathering place to discuss books, download them and eat pastries.

That's really what Barnes and Noble did that was so brilliant - they added coffee and big comfy chairs.

People still want a gathering place. Starbucks is like that, too.

In addition, I believe that readership will significantly increase with the ease of access provided by e-books. And if you add digital content and games to books, that could get interesting too.

I loved your picture, Nathan.

Anonymous said...

I think they can co-exist so long as the e-book is not overpriced.
It's all what the consumer wants and what they are willing to pay for it.
In the best of all worlds, the e-readers (stand alones anyway) would be free with a multiple book purchase and you could buy the book and "add-on" the e-version for a dollar or so more.
The environment of the bookstore is just too fertile a ground to lose, in my opinion. If it gets beat down, like grass under cement, it will rise back up.
And ebooks, if priced right, are way convenient. The ultimate model is still being "thunk up," though.
I continue to think that books should come out in waves from highest/priciest/newest-release form and tier down, but keep reaching for that audience, just like movies do. I mean sometimes we are flush enough or hungry enough to be there for the first-run thrill ride. Other times,our budget makes us wait–or the appeal is okay, but not THAT great to pay first run status–and its the dollar movies.

Margaret said...

I believe it was Kepler's in Palo Alto, CA, but I was recently in a book store where you could buy eBooks just like normal books. The "books" were cardboard replicas of the covers in a browsing rack much like paperbacks often are. I didn't buy one, so I don't know the delivery mechanism, etc., but it sees a good integration of the new (eBooks) and the old (browsing and handselling).

Ryan said...

I'm probably weird when it comes to this, but let me just say that I don't like ebooks. Mainly because I don't like to look at the computer screens for long periods of time, and can you imagine how hard it would be to curl up in a tiny ball with a computer in hand (if you aren't tech savy enough to have one of the ereaders...I am not).

Besides that small fact I've not had a very good experience with the ebooks that I have come into contact with. Many of these have not been put together very well, looking at them for number of errors and such in the book. And, I will admit that most of the ebooks I've had contact with are of the small independent press variety, and probably not of the same quality as the larger publishers ebooks.

To finish with my opinion, I feel that bookstores will never be removed completely, even if they move to selling books entirely over the internet. I don't think that anything can beat the feel of holding a book in your hand though. (Except maybe holding one with your name on the cover, lol.)

Bane of Anubis said...

Bookstores will disappear b/c today's generation is nursed on technology. Physical books won't exactly be the slide-rule of tomorrow, but they'll probably be closer than many of us would like to believe.

Other Lisa said...

Well, here's a thought for a comparison that just occurred to me...

Libraries. How many times did we used to hear that the Interwebz would render libraries obsolete? Though there's still some of this thinking out there (particularly in the corporate library world), this simply has not been the case. Libraries are more relevant than ever in an information economy, and as they have embraced their role in the community of bridging the knowledge gap.

Bookstores have a role to play in the community as well, and though clearly there has been a dramatic (and unfortunate) winnowing with the dominance of online retailers like Amazon, I believe that the smart ones can survive and thrive by expanding their roles as community centers, helping readers find good books, sponsoring author events and so on.

And having a store cat. Store cats are awesome!

Anonymous said...

One of the exciting things about e-books for me is that I think it may become the PERFECT place for a new or experimental or unknown or quirky writer to emerge.
If readers could be given choices from ebook selections of new and unknown or different authors priced at $2.99
then possibly, as the writer gains in popularity, the ebook could go up to
$4.00. Imagine!
A little bit is better than nada.
And in this market, the stand alone differently writer seems to be turning beige.

Raethe said...

Okay, first of all, the most awesome word verification ever: Fractic. (Fractic: v. To curse frantically.)

Okay, I seriously want to coin that as a term now. Can we all just agree to start using it?

Right. Moooving along.

Now, maybe this is just because personally, I couldn't care less about e-books, but I don't really see e-books killing paper books.

I think that there will always be people willing to shell out a little more for a hardcover or even a paperback, whether because they like the format or to support a favourite author, or whatever. I think there will always be people who enjoy browsing bookshelves (I know several--including a Kindle enthusiast).

Aside from the fact that people just enjoy commenting about the death of this or the fall of that (I know we're not exactly talking about the death of the novel here, but how many times has the novel been doomed so far, again?) I think people are looking at the music industry and assuming that books are headed the same way. But aside from the fact that some people (yes, other than me) actually do still buy CDs, the book is a physical artifact in a way that a CD is not.

E-books may one day be the larger market, but I can't see them doing away with paper books entirely.

Nathan Bransford said...


People may buy CDs, but it didn't save Virgin Records and Tower Records. There aren't many record stores left at all. That's my fear.

Anonymous said...

If bookstores go for niche genres and author events they'll be okay. This is what my local bookstore is doing now. (Although, to be fair, my bookstore is in Brooklyn with many of the writers whose books line the shelves living within walking distance.)

But really, what with prices collapsing, maybe more authors will want to have events at bookstores to make additional money.

Anonymous said...

The coexistence model is already in place at the libraries and boutique bookstores hereabouts.

The library has a coffee and pastry shop, a street vendor cart thingy, several dozen computers for online access, and a computerized regional server for online book reserves.

The boutique bookstores combine similar online and brick-and-mortar processes, and coffee and carbohydrate bribes. Several of them offer e-publication services and self-publishing services.

Ink said...

I think my downfall was that I didn't have a store cat.

Ink said...

And boy oh boy do I hope there's still room for bookstores in the future.

Nick said...

"Well, here's a thought for a comparison that just occurred to me...


When I was a little bugger, the library was very big and had a great selection and I pretty much lived there. By the time I was 13, it had moved from a building the size of my old middle school (which, bear in mind, is large -- although the student population is split across three middle schools, that's three schools holding the total HS population, which is always between 3100 and 4200 depending upon the year) to a building the size of my uncle's house, which is probably about half the size it was originally. Three years later, it moved into a building the size of my house, only vertical -- and, just to give you an idea, my house is tiny. 1 16x20 bedroom, 1 15x13 bedroom, 1 9x10 bedroom, two bathrooms, a joint sitting room/dining room, and a small kitchen. We're pretty much an apartment with a basement. Anyway back to the library: Shut down this past August. Business was getting so poor they couldn't shrink any more. No buildings they could keep up costs for.

Now, there are other libraries not too far away that are still doing okay, but they've taken hits in traffic. Libraries are dying. Most of them just not as fast as people initially predicted.

Nicole said...

I do think there's still room for both, but as a part of that I think the brick & mortar store will have to evolve. Many of them already have cafes on site. This helps. Author readings, release day parties (Harry Potter book releases, anyone?), library-style summer reading clubs... all of these things can help promote the local store. I hope they do grow and evolve enough to stick around. (This is one thing record stores never did successfully.) I would miss book stores if they were to ever go away.

reader said...

I need both.

I like Amazon and online buying if I know what I want (I assume this will be the same if/when I break down and buy a Kindle/Nook/Sony Reader/iPad/whatever).

But it's when I don't know what I want that bookstores are most helpful. I don't need employee help -- I just need to randomly walk the aisles and pick up new authors. Nothing can compare to a bookstore for this type of shopping. Seeing the books, the titles, reading random pages are the only way to discover something new. The "look inside" that Amazon offers just doesn't compare.

Jessica said...

I'm not on the e-book wagon as of yet. I still love the feel and smell of books. I hope nothing replaces that feeling of a new hard back book and the crisp sound and feel of turning the next pages to discover something new. Of course I'm still a sucker for hand writing a letter, instead of an email.

Elle Strauss said...

Congrats on reaching 3000 followers! That's epic.

Nicole said...

I am personally a fan of the old fashioned printed book. I like the feel of the pages in my hand, the smell of the paper, everything the e-book lacks. However, I am not anti-e-book. I think the more access people have to books the better. I think bookstores will find a creative way to flourish with this new technology. I definitely don't side with the doom's day theorist that predict bookstores are going to go belly up. I love bookstores. I love the atmosphere. I love to go to a bookstore and look through all the books, however I buy my books on amazon because it's cheaper. They definitely need to address that issue. But long story short I think if bookstores get creative they will find a way to partner with e-books to make their stores flourish :)

Scott said...

There's something magical about a bookstore. To me, it's a candy store - so many options, nice covers, the feel of the pages, the smell of the books. I love to just browse for hours, yes, hours, in a bookstore. I also love my Kindle, but . . . I've been known to go to the local bookstore, browse for hours, and then download the book from Kindle when I get home. Yes, I know, sacrilege! I do buy real books every now and then.

Perhaps, the best of both worlds, is to include the third world of a coffee shop atmosphere where patrons can browse the books, drink some coffee, and read their real and/or e-books. Yeah, I know, it's a work of fiction, but . . .

Marilyn Peake said...

I love your post today. It brought back many memories. I also grew up in a small town. It did have stoplights that operated 24/7, but much was the same as you describe: only one movie theater that had only one screen, no mall, only small stores, and no bookstore. I hardly saw any movies in the theater until I was an adult, and immediately fell in love with cinema. Discovering bookstores as an adult was also a real treat. I remember discovering Dr. Seuss as a child way after his books were already popular, and the same with the Nancy Drew mysteries. Most of the books I read came from the library, and I still associate the smell of plastic covers on library books with a kind of magical experience. I discovered there was a wide world of literature through my high school literature classes, and that made a huge impression on me. I’m also pro-future and love change and scientific advancement, so I embraced eBooks and started buying them before the gadgets were really ready – I initially downloaded eBooks directly onto my computer and either read them on my computer or printed them out to read. I also love bookstores. It’s such a treat to walk through the aisles and see so many books on shelves! I don’t know where the future’s headed in terms of eBooks and paperbacks and hard covers, but I’m purchasing in all three formats, writing my own books and hoping for the best.

I love writing science fiction set in the future because it allows me to develop worlds in which futuristic developments already exist. In the novel I’m currently revising, I created futuristic versions of eBooks, notepads and other communication devices, as well as a method of time travel, because I realized that the characters should be using more advanced technology than exists right now.

daniel t. radke said...

In order for bookstores to go away completely, books need to go away completely, and I don't think that'll ever happen. Hell, cars replaced horses, but you still got loons all over the place riding them.

And congrats on your 3000th follower!

Tambra said...

I want both worlds as well. I'm published in print and e-book, so I want my work available to as many consumers as possible.

I buy both print and ebooks. At booksignings I can tell you the print sells and not the books on CD. (At least for me its been that way.)

Angela Knight writes for NYC and epublishing, which is the plan I have. Why should I have to choose? Why can't there be both options?


Nathan Bransford said...

Thanks for 3,000! I really appreciate everyone keeping up with the blog and of course for everyone's terrific comments.

Anonymous said...

Online bookstores have been a boon for large sections of the country that can't afford to support a bookstore. You have to be over 18 to go into the only bookstore in the town where I grew up (and where my family still lives) because it doubles as an adult toy shop.

(Yeah, it's that kinda podunk. And no, I'm not recommending other bookstores embrace that model to survive, either.)

Now that I live in the "big city" with real bookstores, I go there not just to browse, but for the environment. The big ones are a great place to hang out, read magazines, skim books, use the wifi and even grab a cup of coffee or a snack. If "bookstores" become multipurpose organisms, like a cross between a bookstore and an internet cafe, then I don't see any reason why the rise of e-books should destroy them.

Lindsey Edwards said...

First off congrats on reaching 3000followers! You have a great blog here.

Next, I have the same hope as you that both worlds can co-exist. I'm not a user of the digital readers, but I see why others would fall in love with them. As for having the physical book in my hands, and the sights and sounds, the smell especially if there is a coffee house attached) of the bookstore can not be matched. I could spend hours within those walls and be perfectly content.

owlandsparrow said...

I absolutely identify with your small-town experience - my hometown sounds similar (one blinking traffic light on the edge of town, a single-movie theater - the oldest in Texas! - and not even a Wal-Mart for 30 miles). When I moved there, I was in eighth grade - old enough to dearly miss bookstores.

Funny: your 3,000 followers outnumber the population of my hometown (which, last I checked, came in at a grand total of 2,154).

Dan said...

If enough people switch from being bookstore customers to e-book customers that bookstores no longer earn a profit, then bookstores will go out of business. This is unlikely to happen anytime soon.

Cheaper pricing on new books was the one big advantage of e-books relative to conventional books. Now that the publishers have forced Amazon onto the agency pricing model, the best selling point for e-books is neutralized.

E-books are going to be a niche market for the foreseeable future. The Apple iPad is a slick version of a low-end laptop/netbook, not a device that will revolutionize lifestyles. I think this will be less of a force in publishing than the Kindle and other dedicated devices, because it will offer an inferior reading experience.

But even on a dedicated device, e-books are worse than traditional books for most readers. They must be read on a device that costs money and can run out of batteries. A paper book won't break if you drop it, is not a target for thieves, and does not represent a substantial investment if it is lost or ruined. It can be loaned or given away or sold.

C. Michael Fontes said...

You know what would be a GREAT idea (at least, for my little pea brain, it "seems" great)... Have an online seller (Amazon, Borders, whoever) that sells the eBook and Hardcopy bundle. By the hard copy, for $5 more, you get the eBook. Start reading now, finish with the hardcopy when it arrives at your door.

Plus, you are selling the same book to the same person twice!

Susan Quinn said...

I have a foot in both worlds, too, with my new nook. But I think the only real hope is to expand the number of readers. Will e-readers do this? Maybe. But bookstores maybe become booktique stores, rather than retailers.

Ink- I totally would have driven across the border if you had a cat. :)

Katya said...

I don't get it. Digitally available music didn't kill the stores that sell CDs... why should e-books kill the bookstore? They are two different beasts... I buy the e-book when I know what I want. I got to a book store to browse.

Sarah said...

David Eddings! Oh, I love David Eddings. He made me fall in love with reading all over again as a teenager. I read the Belgariad religiously, till the covers fell of the books.

I'm in love with bookstores. I want to LIVE in one, but I really don't have anything bad to say about technology that makes so many great books available to more people. I think there'll be a place for bookstores for a long time yet... but I do worry about local bookstores. It seems like we just don't have them in Australia*.

* I admit, vast generalisation, but they seem so few compared with the bigger chains...

Other Lisa said...

@Nick, are you talking about school libraries?

I can only look at places like Los Angeles, where in spite of the horrendous budget hits, libraries are alive and vital. I'm talking about public libraries in this case.

I know that other places are having horrible problems with their library budgets, not because of lack of use but because of lack of funding. Salinas, IIRC, can barely keep theirs open.

chris bates said...


- Open a store in one of the most amazing cities in the world.

- Inhabit it with an ancient proprietor.

- Locate it within spitting distance of a 12th century cathedral.

- Sell the books as keepsakes to the literary tourists.

- Eat crepes and drink wine for your remaining years.

Sorry, just projecting my retirement dreams!

Anonymous said...

The B&N in my small city--the only bookstore in town--is closing and parents of young kids are devastated. Going to the bookstore a fun outing for both parents and kids--they hang out in the children's section and parents read books to their kids etc. (and I often see them later in the checkout line).

I've seen parents stick a e-reader (like an iphone) in front of their kids on trains etc, but I don't think parents and children can't share the joy of books and reading the same way with an e-reader. It's just one more gadget that kids push buttons on.

Jil said...

Last weekend when I mentioned e-books to my group of running buddies they were loud in their objections. I asked what if they were traveling, wouldn't an e-book be easier? No they said, better to buy paper backs and throw them away when read. I was surprised at the absoluteness of their rejection .
Happy too, I might add!

D. G. Hudson said...

The market is definitely not saturated with ebook readers, but when the price becomes more affordable, I'm sure it will be.

It will take some time before e-books/readers become the norm. If in that time, bookstores look to their customers, re-assess their inventory, and how they do business, there may be a point of co-existence. Some of our favorite bookstores are landmarks, like 'City Lights' in Frisco and a few in Vancouver which are no more. There is no atmosphere to enjoy when ordering an e-book online.

Technology has its negative side too -- it breaks down, it needs updating, and it clogs landfills due to the special recycling required. Printed books are recyclable, and can be given to societies that re-distribute them. More people can enjoy the printed copy regardless of their income.

It's the consumer attitude that will decide the issue. We each have that choice.

Kristin Laughtin said...

I think they can coexist, but I think physical bookstores are going to have to start selling e-books (in the store) as well. At least, I think this will be true in my lifetime. Farther down the road, physical bookstores will likely become rarer or at least their character will change. They may become more focused on providing hang-out or author event space, coffee shops, or as some have suggested, download centers. I can almost see them becoming some sort of elitist bohemian hang-out spot if they go too far down this path, though. (Coincidentally, I'm in library school, and a lot of people think libraries are going this way as well. The main difference I see is that libraries will still be information centers, and reference/research services will still have a place. But that's a whole other discussion.)

I don't think physical bookstores will disappear entirely in the near future because people like to browse. Yes, Amazon and Google allow for this too, but it's a different sensation from holding the book in your hands blah blah blah we've all heard this argument. But I think it's a valid point.

Linda Adams said...

I go into bookstores to window shop--see what catches my eye. I can't do that on Amazon or the Sony eReader site. They just don't work that way--I have to generally know what I'm looking for when I'm going in.

Where I've been using eBooks is an author I discovered browsing in the bookstore. Cover caught my eye, book was great. It was the sixth in the series, and I figured I'd see what the bookstore had on my next visit. Then I got 17 inches of snow, and work has been closed for 2 1/2 days. The bookstore probably has a glacier for a parking lot and the library is closed, possibly to the end of the week. Since I already knew the other books were probably going to be good, I ordered them via eReader (which curiously, was missing one of the books I wanted to order, but had all the others. Who sells 1-3 and 5-7?). It turned out to be very handy.

I discover new books by cruising the bookstore.

Mary Miller said...

I think bookstores and printed media in general will eventually disappear.

I love flipping paper pages and perusing the aisles of books at a bookstore.

However, I do wonder about the "green" factor of having copies and copies of books printed on paper. Isn't it more earth-friendly to have an e-reader or laptop? I get irritated with having to find a place for all my books.

That said, my husband has a Kindle and I don't like that it has no back-lighting. The price is high and that, in my opinion, is a huge factor in the staying power of paper media for the time being. How many people could afford the cost?

We had a discussion about movie theaters the other day. Would you pay $20.00 to have a new release, in theater movie, streamed into your home? I used to love getting out but all the i-phones, texting, giggling, and making-out teamed with the price of single movie ticket, let alone two, and don't forget the popcorn. Once I even had a person give a foot massage to his girlfriend who was seated next to me. No I didn't know them and yes there were lotions and creams.It makes the thought of paying $20.00 to peacefully watch a movie seem like the best idea ever.

I bring this up because the book question reminds me of the way movie watching has changed. We have ONE drive-in left in Tulsa. It started with Beta movie tapes, VHS, and then DVDs. Mom and pop movie rental places were pushed out by Blockbuster. Then Blockbuster monopolized the market until NETFLIX. Then Blockbuster tried to play catch-up. Booksellers will have to keep one step ahead of the trends.

The e-reader at this point is like the old Beta movie machine I used to rent from the video store. It cost too much for most people to buy one of their own and it was bulky. I think the e-readers, much like videos, will continue to change and become more user-friendly, portable, durable, and cheap enough for every household in the USA to own one.

Wow, are you sorry for asking your question?

heather said...

I think there's room for both. I recently got an e-reader and am enjoying it quite a bit. The convenience of downloading quickly and home space saving is very attractive. However, I still like the feeling of a book in my hand and the sensation of being in a bookstore, browsing for something new and unexpected. I expect to use my e-reader a lot. But I also expect to still buy books that matter, books I'd like to see on my bookshelf.

I've been taking my kids to a local children's bookstore every week for storytime. This bookstore has become one of my kids' favorite places to go. I like that. I love how they get excited to hold a book in their hands and explore its contents. They also adore getting to meet all the authors and illustrators who come to visit. My kids know I have an e-reader and seem interested in it. But it's just not as attractive to them as a tangible book.

By the way, I used to shop Bloomsbury often when I worked in Ashland. Great shop!

Robin said...

I have not yet jumped on the e-book train, but I still frequent both bookstores and the library. I buy from Amazon as well. I try to spread what little wealth I have.

And I think there there is more of a physical (tactile)connection with books than CD's so I would quibble with the analogies that compare the two. Nathan, you are too young for the album days, but that was a harder transition than CD's to downloads. Back in the days of albums, you listened to the whole thing at a time as it was harder to single out a song and just play it. Once CD's came out and it was easy to only listen to what you wanted to, the way we listened to music changed significantly.

Nick said...

@Other Lisa
Nope, school library in all its shiteyness is still going strong. Local public library has gone poof. Next closest one is some half hour away. Not terrible, but not convenient.

Kat Sheridan said...

So Chris Bates is planning on retiring to work in Shakespeare & Co.? Me, too!

Here's my vison of the bookstore of the future. I step into my local brick-and-morter store and browse the aisles, where single copy samples of all the latest releases are available, as well as bins of cover flats or postcards for older titles, indie presses, etc. If I still can't find what I want, I can log onto their network from any number of terminals and locate any book, anywhere. When I've made my choices, I fill out a form that's sent directly to the cashiers. That form says I'll have the latest from Bransford in print, an older title from Author Smith in the iPad format, and a title from Author Jones in the Kindle format, to be marked as a gift for my Trogolidite friend. (an email will be sent to them telling them to log on and pick it up).

When my number is called, I step up and hand over my ereader. While that's downloading, the paper copy of Bransford's book is being printed from the Espresso printer. I also order an actual espresso (skinny with a shot of caramel), and oh, that music that's playing is very nice, please add that to my handheld device as well.

I gather up my coffee, my book, and my handheld and step into the media room, where I take advantage of the free wi-fi to do research for my own latest WIP, while waiting for the real time video conference from Author X, being broadcast simultaneously to bookstores all over the country.

When that ends, the bookstore gives me a signed bookmarker from the author, and I can either download the e-version of the book immediately, or wait a few days for a special edition, signed by the author, to be delivered to my house.

Because the bookstore knows me and my taste, they can kep me apprised, through their website and e-newsletter, of upcoming releases and author events I might find interesting.

But that's just in my fanatasy world. Right?

AndrewDugas said...

Bookstores need to diversify and I don't mean coffee. Events are one direction. Readings, signings, launches, maybe even creating their own imprint for local authors. Similarly, they can make space available for writing and reading groups, maybe even non-store events. Film screenings, again with a local angle, may be another offering.

Specialization is another option. I think a bookstore in a metropolitan area that specializes in Mysteries or Science Fiction or other genre with a dedicated readership has a good chance at surviving, if not succeeding.

Back to diversification...

When I lived in Brazil in the early 90s, it seemed most towns had at least one "centro cultural" that was, in effect, a small cultural mall. It might have one or two small screening rooms, a cafe/bistro, a small bookstore, and a dedicated performance space suitable for dance or small theatre. Some were connected with a language school. They were great places to hang out, especially the ones in converted mansions from the colonial era. Come for the movie, browse books while waiting for showtime, then hit the cafe after the movie for a lively discussion and a glass or three of wine.

For my fellow San Franciscans, imagine the Roxie mashed up with Adobe Books mashed up with Cafe Trieste, but all on a smaller scale.

Myrna Foster said...

I hope there are room for both. I don't read e-books yet, and I'm not convinced I ever will (as long as the books I want to read are available in the old fashioned format).

I moved back to the small town I grew up in, and we still don't have a stoplight. :) I'm okay with that.

And I still keep in touch with the friend from college who handed me the Belgariad and told me to read it.

Ben said...

I just got my Barnes & Noble nook in the mail, and I think the B&N strategy has the best chance of preserving bookstores while also embracing eBooks. The exclusive, free content offered in-store is a great incentive to visit, as is the ability to browse through a complete eBook.

The nook is doing the best job at the moment, in my opinion, of replicating the best aspects of physical books in digital form (lending being another part of that). That's why I cast my money vote with B&N and am hoping for their success moving forward.

Dominique said...

I used to go both ways on the book buying front, but now I definitely lean towards the stores. I like the browsing and going and the standing there, beverage in hand, trying to decide if page one is as good as I think it is. I certainly hope we can keep the bookstores around.

Sarah said...

Have you seen this battle?

ann foxlee said...

I tend to think that as long as bookstores embrace digital advances by offering e-books in their online stores (or even in their actual stores) they have nothing to fear.
Like you said, part of the appeal of bookstores is the experience of going to one.

They just have to make sure they stay relevant to a wide group of people, and that means selling books in whatever forms they are made.

ann foxlee said...

But maybe I'm also biased toward bookstore viability because I live in Portland, where Powell's is based.

"Why would anyone do anything but go there for books?" I think to myself, even though I ought to remember most cities have slim pickings on bookstores

Amy said...

I don't think bookstores are going completely away anytime soon, but they are going to need to adapt to stay in the game. For kids, especially young ones, who enjoy books, shopping online is not going to cut it. They enjoy the whole outing - they want to get their hands on the books before deciding what they want to buy. If I tried to tell my 7-year old I could order her book online and it will arrive in 2-3 days, she'd look at me as if I were crazy. 2 -3 days? That's a deal breaker for her. If the book I was going to order turned out not to be at the store we go to, she would prefer to choose a different book.

It's very different for adults, of course, but there's a lot bookstores can do to get people coming in. We have a lot of events at our bookstores here. And I really think Barnes & Noble is on the right track with their nook - encouraging people to bring them to the stores so that they can access more content there. In a marketplace where many consumers have trouble deciding between ereaders, I think that's a very nice value-added feature that can swing some purchases their way.

The bookstores in my area always seem to be pretty crowded. Those events - the more times people attend them, the stronger the connections they make with the store. Sure, there will always be people who are guided by price alone, but bookstores can offer a lot that online retailers cannot. Perhaps if they can try to capitalize on those strengths, they can hang around a bit longer.

AjFrey said...

Here's my dream. I go to my local bookstore and purchase the newest bestseller. Inside the cover is access to the e-book. Maybe a license code so to speak. I'd even pay more for the option. No more choosing between the two. I use whichever feels better depending on where I am. I want to cuddle with the book - I own it. I want convenience - I own it. Publishers might get on board, because it is normally the bookstores that open their arms to the authors on tour. Not

You know how they were afraid of the internet when mp3's were popping up. End of cd's, end of music business. Panic - stock pile water in the basement. Well, now you can download the music on iTunes, and then burn your own cd - because why - you own it. Same thing - just backwards.

No need to choose.

ryan field said...

I'm hoping that the smaller bookstores, in places like DC, Philadelphia, and up on Cape Cod can figure out a way to coexist with e-books. I'd hate to see these great shops close. Provincetown wouldn't be the same without "Now Voyager" books in the east end on Commercial Street.

Dawn Simon said...

I want it all, too. We still have some wonderful independent bookstores up here in Washington. I'd be so sad if they went away. I try to do most of my book shopping at our local one. Fun that you went to Elliott Bay!

Congrats on the huge amount of followers. If you start your own small town made up of followers, we should have stoplights and a bookstore! ;)

wendy said...

I love real books: their beautifully bound, illustrated covers; flipping through pages; seeing them lined up on library and book shelves.

While book stores might be hit hard in the immediate timeframe, I'm sure they'll bounce back. Also, there are niche areas they will always fill with remainder book stores and those that specialise in the rare and collectables - not to mention gift books and coffee table books.

Ebooks are cool, too, and I've bought a few and hope to have my own ebook site up soon. But I believe there'll always be room for the hard books and the digital variety. And as the world population grows, there'll be more buyers to spread their dollars on both.

Btw, I'm glad you made yesterday's last comment, Nathan.

Amy said...

RE: Libraries. Sadly, many libraries today are turning into daycare centers. Big cities are having them overrun with tweens that the parents don't want to hire a babysitter for but don't want them alone after school either. The distraction is huge for those that actually go there for reading.
That said, I hope they endure, as I hope small independent bookstores could have endured. Could have, because around here there are no more.

Jane Steen said...

I agree with the commenters who think that coexistence is possible. There will be fewer bookstores, perhaps, but those which remain will be the coolest places in town.

My local library is undergoing a major expansion because it was bursting at the seams. Its responsiveness to its customers, selection of new books, knowledgeable and courteous staff, wide range of media available, and numerous programs and clubs for all ages makes it a central hub for our community. I think the bookstores that survive will be the same. I would love to see the addition of used/rare book sections to bring in the real bibliophiles, more intimate spaces instead of the huge warehouse design, and a multi-purpose entertainment space that could be rented to local groups. But what makes or mars a store is the people who run it, and that's something you just can't manufacture.

Nick said...

"RE: Libraries. Sadly, many libraries today are turning into daycare centers. Big cities are having them overrun with tweens that the parents don't want to hire a babysitter for but don't want them alone after school either."

Nothing wrong with that. Like I said, when I was a little bugger I practically lived at the library. Look how I turned out -- writing crime fiction and with my own veritable library in my bedroom. Get the kids reading instead of just dropping them there for the day and it may well do some good.

Shelby said...

I for one will be buying books a long time.

There are more like me.


I bet you are one too.

LCS249 said...

Aren't the real questions:

What will e-books mean for authors?

How will they affect what authors earn"

Author income has never been that great, and as shown in these blogs, it's getting smaller:

kathrynjankowski said...

Bookstores are a thing of the past in Yuba County, CA. Very sad.

annerallen said...

Thanks to all the people who have hopeful things to say about coexistence. Maybe if Tower Records had sold pastries they would have survived?

Claudia said...

@Katya Actually, as a result of the MP3 situation, the super-hip, personalized-service-delivering, staffed-with-smart-people CD store in my town (a very wealthy, elitist college town) did just tank. All that's left are the CD sections at B&N and Borders.

The Writing Muse said...

I love going to bookstores. Perusing the books and discovering the various ways authors have told their stories inspires and excites me. The bookstore is essentially my Mother-Ship.
Bookstores aren't going anywhere.

The Editors said...

1st I would like to say that this is an area where music and books are completely different. I never went to a CD store to find a new artist. I might had had a couple CDs that I wanted to look at before picking which one I got, but I could do that in a CD store, on-line or anywhere else that sells CDs. On-line was better at times for that as you could often listen to part of the songs before you bought it.
That being said, I think that there will be some book stores in the future. But, like many, I think they will have to specialize or change some to do that. I think that the grocery store may be a better example of what will happen to bookstores. When things like Super Wal-Mart’s became big, everyone thought that that was the end of small grocery only stores. But, although many stores closed after a while some learned how to survive by specializing or adding services. I live in a city where in a couple mile radius I can go to multiple supercenters stores, big box stores, discount grocery stores, traditional grocery stores and a few specialty shops. I know people that shop at a store mainly because they walk your cart out for you and will even pack your car. Our farmer's market is busy all summer long, even though they often cost more than a store because the people there are friendly and knowledgeable. And you can find and sample things you can’t get other places. Just like how at a good bookstore you can find help with picking a book, thumb thru it before you read it and it won't just be the newest bestseller or at the top of Amazon’s top selling lists.

Jenny said...

I think bookstores have a lot to offer--atmosphere, probably being the biggest. Mixing coffee shops and books is almost an institution. They are meeting places for work, because they offer a certain level of respectability, and pleasure, because they are generally a calming kinda place. Same reason libraries are still in place...only for people who would like to own the books instead of paying late fees (like me--it's just cheaper to buy the darn book!). And if you have a wi-fi, a place to buy your e-books as well.

PS: My word verifiction word is
elowvqpv--I've never been so cross-eyed in my life.

Anonymous said...

So, I haven't been to a bookstore in three years. I buy something from Amazon or itunes every week.

Dan said...


Every single awesome thing you fantasize about doing in the future at the bookstore, you can do right now at home.

You don't need to take your e-reader to a bookstore and have the clerk load your purchase into it. These devices connect by wireless to the cell-phone network and you can browse the BN or Amazon site on the device.

If you want to buy a new book and load it onto the e-reader, you don't even have to get out of bed.

Eva said...

It makes me sad to think bookstores could vanish. There is no feeling like scanning the shelves and stumbling upon an enticing book, begging to be read.

Dan said...

Personally, I don't think e-books will ever replace books, because the e-book offers very few advantages to the reader.

The price difference is shrinking, you can't loan out, swap or sell an e-book, and the e-reader experience, is at best comparable and generally inferior to reading a paper book.

E-ink devices have a screen that is easy to read and the battery life is so long that power consumption is rarely an issue. But they are expensive devices that serve a single purpose.

Tablet computers are just stripped-down laptops. If you don't want to read a book on your PC, you won't want to read a book on an iPad. Apple is only relevant as a stick to beat Amazon with. This is not a device for readers.

Paper books are cheap, portable, durable and disposable. Most people have no reason to replace them with fragile, expensive electronics.

And even if e-readers really improved people's lives, it's very difficult to achieve universal adoption, even of very good technology.

There were a whole lot of people updating rabbit-ear television receivers for the digital switch last year, high-speed internet is in fewer than half of US households, and there are a lot of people who don't even have cell phones. It is highly unlikely that readers will be willing to replace books with computer screens, and highly unlikely that dedicated e-ink devices will gain high rates of adoption.

psikeyhackr said...

You don't even bring up the issue of Zombie Authors.

I started reading sci-fi before there was a Star Trek. But a few years ago I bought 5 paperbacks in a brick and mortar store on the basis of reviews on the net. I couldn't stand any of them.

I decided it made more sense to wade thru sci-fi in Project Gutenberg than try to judge SF on the basis of today's tastes. These people like Harry Potter!

But how do ebooks for sale compete with FREE e-books? I like bookstores too. But I bought lots of books I didn't like. Why don't we have a more standardized method of reviewing after all of these decades? If all they give is number of stars how do you evaluate the SCIENCE in a science fiction book.

Oh yeah, readers don't want science these days.

Nic said...

I think they could co-exist. The one thing i'm worried about is DRM so will still buy books plus i prefer reading paper.
In the ideal world, publishers would sell, a paper copy with the digital version. So that if you spill coffee/read it too many times on the paper version or the ebook gets corrupted then you still have another version which you don't have to buy again.

The trouble with music is/was that people tend to listen to it through a computer of some kind so iTunes was/is just easier - you don't go to a record shop to "hang out" which you can in a bookstore.

I don't see the ebook being as successful as mp3 downloads.

Mel said...

I write for other people all the time and am constantly looking at a screen. Eyestrain becomes a problem. To relax, I like a book ... the look of it, the feel of it ... sometimes even the smell of it. If I'm on a desert island (or just travelling somewhere), I'd want my e-books - easier to transport ... otherwise, I need bookstores. They are a wonderland I can take a walk in and explore to my heart's content. Can they co-exist with e-books? For sure and folk like me need them.

Linguista said...

Nathan, I know what you mean! I love bookstores. I love being in a Borders, sitting on the floor, with a stack of books around me.

I'm guessin g bookstores will take a hit, but some of the big chains should stick around, especially Barnes and Noble, sicne they got the Nook. We might have to travel a little farther to get there though :(

Anonymous said...

I hate Amazon cuz they keep trying to place cookies on your e-mail. Give me a bookstore any day...What will happen to book signings without author appearances in book shops? How in heck do you autograph a Kindle or a Nook?? Writers are isolated enough as it is--we need places like B&N and Borders.

howdidyougetthere said...

If movie theaters can survive in an age of high tech TVs, DVDs and even online rentals, then so can book stores.

We are social creatures - even writers. I go to bookstores to physically be around the books, and see others doing the same, even if they are sitting behind computers or a cup o' Joe.

As Steve Mirsky said on a Scientific American podcast, and I'm paraphrasing - sorry Steve, I'm too lazy to look it up - as long as sports fans will sit in below freezing weather to watch a game they can't even see, (or could see better at home from their TVs) then there's hope.

Someone will come up with the right formula. They will build it, and we will come.

Rick Daley said...

I love bookstores. I have yet to embrace the e-book, but I do understand that resistance is futile.

I wonder if things like author readings could actually help the bookstores compete, providing an attraction that you can't get electronically. Sure, you could listen to a podcast, but that doesn't mean you can shake the author's hand, chat with them, or get them to sign your book.

BTW...have you ever gotten an autographed copy of an e-book?

Mary Miller said...

Let's not forget the bottom line with all storefront businesses - dollar, dollar bills y'all.

Is there enough of a profit margin after paying employees, utilities, rent, etc.? They have to sell a lot of lattes and books to cover their overhead. Will that be possible after taking a hit from electronic readers.

I am curious - do bookstores have to pay authors for visits and book signings? I know schools do.

Malia Sutton said...

Small bookstores have been slowly going out of business for a long time now. And this had more to do with paying high rent and trying to compete with large chains than it has to do with e-books.

But now, with e-book sales growing in numbers, and people buying online, I don't see how small bookstores will be able to survive. But this has happened to other businesses too. It's not just bookstores. Video stores, small clothing stores, and other businesses that used to thrive just aren't viable anymore.

So I don't think it's about books as much as it is about consumer buying habits across the board.

Anonymous said...

"BTW...have you ever gotten an autographed copy of an e-book?"

I send complimentary copies of my e-books to fans all the time with my electronic signature. And to people who read e-books, this is just as good as pen and ink.

Scott said...

If there are still places to buy vinyl and CDs in an age where technology has dramatically changed the listening experience, than I think bookstores will continue to exist in an age where technology has not done the same for the reading experience.

My local Borders just opened a sizable YA section in the CENTER of the floor. They see what's going on and are annexing to the culture with a physical presence.

If e-books help grow the reading culture, there will be a need for people to gather somewhere. Judging by it being harder than ever to get a table to look through books and have a mocha latte, I see something growing, not eroding.

Ma and Pa stores may have to find a way to position themselves as singular experiences outside of book buying, but I still see e-books supporting a culture that will want to step outside their solitary experience for a few hours. Creating a place to discuss books, interact with authors, and continue to diversify with auxiliary products could be the publishing wave of the future––and the future of publisher marketing.

Anonymous said...

I think there will always be a few quirky little places on the fringes, where a small segment of artistic types will want to gather. And the people who own these little places will have a trust fund, or a wealthy partner who needs a good tax deduction, or some other source of income that pays the rent.

But I don't see it happening in the mainstream. And in order to own a viable business that makes a profit, large or small, you need the mainstream consumer to survive, because the artistic types, who are not the biggest spenders, aren't going to put food on the table.

Carolyn said...

You know what I want from a bookstore? I want to walk in with my iPhone (or whatever devise the future provides that is awesome and cool) and browse covers and maybe a few pages (physical bookshelves with digital displays?) Or even just the hard paper. But if I want, I can buy a digital copy -- from the store.

AND if I have a dig. book that I loved and I want to walk into a book store and use their Espresso machine to print off a hard copy for me.

Getting a backlist title should be easy not, order it and wait 12 weeks or pay $50 for a used copy. If Google Books ever gets settled, I want bookstores hooked up so I can get a physical copy as I'm browsing or searching the store.

Ishta Mercurio said...

Nathan, your comment about "competing on customer experience" brings to mind my local bookstore - which is not a small independent bookstore, but is the only bookstore in my city. They are renovating a quarter of their store and turning it into a children's area, complete with not only children's books, but toys, games, play tables, dress-up clothes, and the like. From what I can tell, books will take up a fairly small portion of this new "children's section", which saddens me, but which I take as a sign that in order to coexist with the electronic marketplace, bookstores are having to evolve.

Anonymous said...

Chapters/Indigo in Canada has done a great job of keeping up both. I love their stores and can also buy e-books/traditional books online. It's not an independent store by any means, but for a major company, it seems to be very well run. I've heard it's doing well even in this economy. It allows me to avoid Amazon (and has way better customer service and shipping). I honestly feel lucky to have Chapters in Canada--I order online and go there far too often. :)

It just seems like a great business model to me.

Kathryn Magendie said...

I'm still picturing you as that young boy/young man in that small town waiting for the book fair *smiling*

I'm old enough to remember bookmobiles - do they even still have those?

Mary Miller said...

Anonymous said, "But I don't see it happening in the mainstream. And in order to own a viable business that makes a profit, large or small, you need the mainstream consumer to survive, because the artistic types, who are not the biggest spenders, aren't going to put food on the table."

This goes along with my point. Just because it's fun to get a coffee and look at piles of books for free doesn't pay the rent for these stores.

Also, I know I prefer to buy online via Amazon and other sites because at this point there is often free shipping and no sales tax. Oklahoma's sales tax is over 8%.

I would think in turn storefront owners have to charge more because they have to consider the amount of money spent to have items shipped to the store and pay all overhead.

In the end would you choose to get something for less and have it delivered for free to your door or electronic device?

Anonymous said...

"This goes along with my point. Just because it's fun to get a coffee and look at piles of books for free doesn't pay the rent for these stores."

Thanks for supporting my comment. I speak from knowing someone who owned a small bookstore and tried to make it work. The literary types would gather in his shop, sip their mocha lattes, and waste his time. They never spent any money and he went into debt trying to make them happy.

Sarah said...

This is such a hard tension to live in. I value local bookstores and the experiences that they can offer, but there is a sacrifice that comes along with that in price. I love the price of Amazon, but the sacrifice is the loss of author control and, I believe, integrity of business practices as we just saw with the Macmillan incident.

It really feels like we're on the brink of something huge, where you can fight it (the revolution to e-books), but it's going to happen one way or another. I genuinelly believe that it will be a good thing if handled correctly. However, I deeply want to be able to continue to hold the majority of my books in my hand, smell the pages, write notes in the margin, and visit stores to hear authors speak. It's a hard tension, but I think we can have both/and.

abc said...

I also grew up in a town without a bookstore (although it did/does have a Ronald Reagan museum--he grew up there, too (meh)). Our bookstore was an hour drive away to the nearest mall.

Thankfully, now, it does have a little bookstore/coffeeshop and whenever I visit my parents I make a point of buying books there (along with my usual soy vanilla latte). It's a great place! Kinda like Cheers in that everybody knows your name. And they know mine too! I'm pro-future too, though, so while I love the bookstore and everything it represents to authors and communities, I'm also salivating over an iPad.

All I can say is, I hope a balance can be struck. Somehow.

Genella deGrey said...

If the theater, cinema, television and radio can co-exist, so can bookstores and ebooks.

Mallory said...

I work in an indie bookstore, and the surge of "buy local" campaigns have definitely been a help. If this philosophy of supporting your local businesses continues we may well have a chance. Also, I think we'll find more bookstores selling things other than books to find security in diversification. For instance, we're also an art gallery, and selling art on consignment has no upfront costs. Depending on the time of the month/year, the art and the books alternate carrying us.

Steve said...

I've been in the conversation on Mike's blog. Let me repeat, slightly rewritten, something I said there.

I indicated that a couple of points mentioned in other comments, plus a couple of my own observations might "converge to a ray of hope"

The other folks' comments:

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez: (referring to a recently closed B % N)
"As for the B&N in Hoboken, I'd argue that has more to do with the cost of real estate in an affluent city..."

andyross797: (referring to indie bookstores still making it)
"....very small niche-y neighborhood stores with minimal overhead."

And my own observations:

I'm fond of saying that TV didn't kill movies. However, that does NOT mean no theaters closed. I vividly remember the closed theaters of the mid-sixties. Where? In central cities where rents and taxes were high and traffic was declining. The counter-trend? Mall theaters and Super-plexes. This is niche migration, like when climate change forces species migration.

For whatever it's worth, commercial real estate values appear to be in a decline from a high point in 2007Q3. I had heard this anecdotally, so I Googled it and found this cute chart for retail based on the Moodys/REAL Commercial Property Price Index (CPPI)

I would expect opportunities for entrepreneurial spirits to pioneer a niche migration to low-overhead zones.


Natasha Fondren said...

I love ebooks. The only paper books I can read need to be brand new, and even then, I get asthma attacks. I load up on pills and inhalers and spend one day a week in the bookstore, which I LOVE.

I make sure to spend a fortune in the cafe. I hope that helps. I still buy about a paper book a month or so, and often donate it to the little campground library.

So yeah, I want both worlds.

Anonymous said...

Since I am not a book store owner, let me tell them how they should run their business:) I think it will be very tough, on one hand I would love to run a bookstore, but the realistic part of me says its likely that they will go the way of the music store. I think it will be much more difficult to run a book store of the future. (As if it weren't tough enough now.) Obviously you need plenty of events, signings, openings, teaming up with movie theaters for movies that originated in books, etc.) I think another venue could be to go where people are. If indie bookstores can set up selling e-books, then they can get their entire inventory with a laptop. - Set up a table at a farmer's market and promote organic food books, go to festivals, go to anything where people are. Someone above mentioned bookmobiles, I think that that should be explored - you are not limited by the size of the van, you can sell as much as Amazon can but you can go where people are better than Amazon can.
Another idea could be to look at the model of Gamestop stores. I assumed that Gamestop would go out of business when computer games became much easier to download, yet they seem to be doing fine. Maybe this entails have a used book section (buy a used book for $1.00 credit, and sell it for $5.00 - you can't beat that margin.) Gamestop also sells gift certificates to online games (which I would think directly sends people away from their store, but again they are still in business.) Maybe this entails selling Kindles or Amazon gift certificates even, but at a minimum it means selling ebooks. On the positive side it may mean that you do not need large retail space, (but large enough to hold events.)
I think it will take more planning, much more outreach, but hopefully it can be done. Unfortunately, it may mean more work for declining income - until it turns into larger and larger deficits. For those who say that they love the feel and smell of books, I'm sorry, I really don't think that's going to cut it. The fact is you can download a book for less, no shipping, no tax, and the ebook readers look good with the e-ink technology. You need to draw people to your store or go where the people are. Good luck.

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