Nathan Bransford, Author


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

What is the future of bookstores?


There was some good news in bookstoreland this week as beloved San Francisco science fiction and fantasy bookstore Borderlands announced that they would be able to stay open at least another year thanks to a successful (and unique) crowdfunding and sponsorship campaign. They had previously planned to close in part due to rising minimum wages in San Francisco.

Is this a harbinger of things to come for bookstores?

I've previously predicted that local, independent bookstores would hang on longer than chains, much as indie record stores have persisted even as Virgin, Borders and Tower megastores bit the dust in the music world.

But it seems like even just relying on book sales may not be enough as e-books continue their inexorable march.

What do you think? Can bookstores hang on, and is crowdfunding the answer? Or will bookstores be saved by another force? Or will they eventually be consigned to the past?

Art: Pariser Büchermarkt by Fritz Westendorp






17 comments:

Other Lisa said...

I think just as authors' relationships with publishers in the new publishing environment require revisions (as it were), publishers' relationships with independent bookstores need some rethinking as well. Bookstores are still one of the best forms of advertising that publishers have. I'd like to see publishers step up and more actively support independent bookstores, perhaps with sponsorships, perhaps with offering better pricing structures, etc. I leave the specifics to those more knowledgable than I!

Anma Natsu said...

I think the bookstores, especially the indie ones, should also try to find ways to embrace the growing move towards indie authorship. Using sources to curate indie books to stock in store, hosting events, etc.

As it is now, being indie almost entirely ends up being only eBook because the stores shut out the indies, especially any that are using CreateSpace as their POD.

The biggest reason I don't shop much at local bookstores though is one - they tend to stock only limit "popular" stuff versus what I read the most and two - their prices suck. I'm sorry, but I'm not paying cover price for a paperback if I can save $2-3 from Amazon or other online retailers with free shipping.

If it's a smaller difference, like $1, then I don't mind buying local, but large percentage differences in price? Nope, not doing.

It may be "mean" to the "little" guy, but it's also just like any other business. If you can't compete with your competitors and can't establish yourself as offering some extra value to explain the premium, then you don't succeed.

Other Lisa said...

I agree and disagree with you, Anma, because IMO, the free market is far from "free." Economies of scale are nearly always able to offer lower prices, but does that make them a good thing across the board? (Walmart being a prime example of how much "low prices" can actually cost in terms of social benefit).

I am, well, pretty broke, but I would rather spend a few extra bucks on books at my local indie, which has done so much for the community of readers and writers that its loss would be very expensive indeed.

(as mentioned in my earlier comment, I'd like to think that publishers could work a little more with indies on pricing, too)

abc said...

I'm not against the future (the innovation, I mean. Climate change sounds pretty scary.), but I'll be so darn sad if bookstores disappear. I'm not sure what the answer is. There must be an answer.

My hometown (the one I was so desperate to leave for 18 years) has a little bookstore called Books on First. It didn't exist when I was growing up. It's a favorite hang out among locals who love to meet and talk over a cup of joe (they also serve coffee, natch). My parents go there at least 2 times a week to meet friends and talk politics, etc. Like a salon. The owner, Larry, always greets me by name when I visit. We talk Iris DeMent and John Prine. I'd hate to see that place go.

My current town, Iowa City, has a rather famous (among the Writer's Workshop graduates) bookstore called Prairie Lights. Legendary bookseller, Paul Ingram, knows just what people should be reading. He's a character and beloved by the city. I'd hate to lose that, too.

And there it is. Another blog post disguised as a comment.

CageFightingBlogger said...

Book signings and events will save bookstores. Just selling books won't be enough: Amazon does that. That said, even if a store does ramp up public appearances, they'll still need to think of something else to stay afloat.

Janiss Garza said...

I think indie bookstores need to adapt to their communities to continue to thrive. Out here in L.A., the ones that do well have events by local celebrities (not necessarily of the movie star type - more like the underground type), or also have coffee shops in their stores, to make them a place to hang out. Or they cater to a very passionate niche, like vintage film and TV (think Larry Edmunds in Hollywood). If they do this, I don't see them going away anytime soon.

Chris Bailey said...

My nearest indie store succeeds by being an advocate for the arts in the community. Their web page states, "Books, art supplies, stationery, teacher resources, and a coffee shop." They also host readings and signings with local and nationally-known authors.

Unknown said...

Publishers, bookstores, libraries are all in flux and there is no way to know how it will turn out, but I am certain of one thing: books will survive along with gathering places for readers. Will there be shelves of books? Will books even be sold? Those are questions I can't answer, but books in some form will be there because people desperately and passionately want them.

Alan Drabke said...

The downside to self-publishing and e-books is, indeed, the loss of cozy bookstores and jobs in publishing for well educated humanities majors. The upside, authors no longer have to be politically correct to get published.

Anne OConnell said...

Nathan,
Thanks for the post, and for the gorgeous painting... I believe that is a scene right across from my favourite indie bookstore in the world - Shakespeare's on the Left Bank in Paris! I have spent hours getting lost in the narrow aisles and pausing on the creeky staircase to the upper floor to reach into a nook to see what treasure it might hold. I don't mind spending an extra dollar or two. I get such pleasure from absorbing the energy that pulses in an around the shelves. The last time I was there I bought a lovely hard cover book with two Sherlock Holmes stories as well as Ernest Hemingway's Islands in the Stream. On a more practical note, I read recently that there were cities in the U.S. where they were turning abandoned Walmarts into big book stores. Love it!
Thanks, Anne

Greg (G.P.) Field said...

I believe the future of the bookstore may lie in a hybrid physical/online experience. I came up with a retail concept that combines the physical and social browsing experience of ‘an event’ with online price and efficiency - http://www.gpfield.com/the-bookstore-of-the-future-hybrid-retail/#sthash.zkA26gbD.dpuf

Cinthia said...

I think indie bookstores can survive but only if they take a realistic look at the future and gear their needs/expectations.

I've worked as a journalist for over 15 years and newspaper are still lagging when it comes to technology, social media and readership. Sadly, many bookstores seem to be doing the same, clinging to the past instead of embracing the future.

That said, I think that bookstores can serve a vital function and can compete in the world of eBooks by acting more of a gathering place for writers, authors and financially, by partnering with indie authors, much like the function of a traditional publishing house, and offering promotional, advertising and other services in return for a small cut of eBook sales or other arrangements.

The book world is definitely changing. It's exciting to think of what might come next provided, of course, that bookstores remain on the scene.

Anonymous said...

I think the biggest problem with posts like this is that people reading them don't look at bookstores from a pragmatic business POV. It's all about emotion, and the smell of books, etc... But no one ever considers the person paying the rent to keep that bookstore open.

There are not many smart business people out there who would invest their money in a bookstore, a video store, or gay bar.



Bryan Russell said...

Bookstores better survive. If they don't, I will pretty much have to HULK SMASH everything. Yes, everything.

Magdalena Munro said...

People will happily pay a 2-4x markup for a glass of wine at their favorite restaurants but will look for bargains at Bevmo. Why is that? Experience. Yes, you can buy your book on Amazon for 2-3 dollars cheaper but you haven't had the same experience. For some it's no big deal and for others (like me-I'm quite sensory driven) it is a very big deal. I'm no different from you in my love of bookstores.

In my opinion, bookstores that succeed will be run by smart business people that will do what they can to keep their stores relevant. Relevance can come in the shape of immersion into the community, lectures, workshops, book signings, and buzz. The bookstores that simply rest on their laurels for simply "being bookstores" will most likely not make it as is the case with any business that isn't evolving. Even my local library has evolved and they have the coolest gen x and gen millennials book clubs, readings, relevant (I use it again but it's an important word here) movie screenings for free, and events that keep me coming back to their land of books. And that's a library! My two cents. Now I'll have some coffee.

Gwen Tolios said...

Sadly, I think the strictly bookstore approach is leaving us. Unless perhaps used books, because they're always selling them for more than they buy them. But I think many who combine books with other services are doing well. Namely - coffee shops.

Coffee shops have a more consistent revenue and bring by repeat costumers more often than book stores, a cup of coffee lasts less time after all, and the profit from them can cover costs for purchasing books for sales set up in one side of the store. Plus, they're a better set up for events.

I feel stores that have this partnership will last, as opposed to those that just relay on books. Granted, Borders used to have cafes too, but they were a minor part of the store. Nowadays, it works better I feel if the situation is reversed.

Pimion said...

I'm afraid that future of bookstores isn't promising if they rely solely on book sales. I think there are two ways to keep them 'alive': organizing events like meetings with authors, autograph sessions etc and crowdfunding campaigns.

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