Bookstores in Our Future?


by Susan Ideus

One of my favorite pastimes is browsing through bookstores—large ones, small ones, whatever.  Being surrounded by new books, new authors, new ideas is a special delight. A bookstore always seems to me to be a haven of quiet in the company of kindred souls, a thoroughly pleasant way to spend time. I don’t always buy something—sometimes just the experience of perusing and craving (I try not to actually covet…) is enough. Of course, if you ask my dear hubby, he will most emphatic about stating that I’ve done my part over the years to financially support various bookstores.

Yet it seems the news is filled these days with stories of small independent book stores going out of business and  some of the big chain book retailers having big problems. Can you even envision a day when the brick and mortar bookstores are no more?

Online book sellers seem to maintain and even flourish, especially with the advent of e-books. I use the online services, sometimes for price and sometimes for e-books, but I cannot imagine not being able to go into an actual bookstore. It would be an enormous loss.

In a recent Wall Street Journal article (http://on.wsj.com/qviSDk), Penguin CEO John Makinson talked about the difference in book owners, book readers and why he believes small independent book stores are still viable.

“…people will willingly pay a higher price in an independent bookshop knowing they can buy [the same book] for less down the road. That’s because consumers feel an emotional engagement with the bookstore and feel that bookstores are providing a public service as well as a commercial service. I see no evidence that independent bookstores will become obsolete. . .”

It follows that he sees similar differences in those readers who favor physical books over e-books.

“There is a growing distinction between the book reader and the book owner. The book reader just wants the experience of reading the book, and that person is a natural digital consumer: Instead of a disposable mass market book, they buy a digital book. The book owner wants to give, share and shelve books. They love the experience. As we add value to the physical product, particularly the trade paperback and hardcover, the consumer will pay a little more for the better experience”.

I’ve talked about those differences and preferences here in this column before, and it will be an ongoing discussion in the book industry as a way is found to accommodate all of us. Many readers, me included, have a foot in both camps.

Makinson speaks from a commercial perspective. I wondered how an author might feel about the present and future importance of bookstores to his/her livelihood. I fully realize that successful authors are business persons and marketing gurus as well, but they begin from a different point.  So, I decided to ask one of my favorites, prolific author and founder of Story Circle Network Susan Wittig Albert. She speaks to both the bookstore issue and to that reader who loves bound books. Thanks, Susan!

“Lots of people are buying books online, for the convenience, but plenty of readers still want to be engaged with their local bookstores. For example, I recently gave a talk and did a signing at the Book Spot, in Round Rock, TX, which was crowded with people who had come to get a book, browse the shelves, and look for new authors. At another store, a specialty mystery bookstore called Murder by the Book, in Houston, I spoke to an overflow crowd. Bookstores are important to authors, because booksellers “handsell” books to people who are looking for a new author to add to their libraries. They’re important to readers, too, who are convinced that there’s no substitute for a bound book with real paper pages that they can hold in their hands!”

I know that some of our readers are published authors as well. We’d love to hear your thoughts on how bookstores impact you. And, for all of our readers, let us know your thoughts on your favorite bookstores, why you shop there,  and your own book buying habits.

Until next time, good reading!!

7 responses to “Bookstores in Our Future?

  1. Susan, thank you for the thoughtful and thought-provoking post. I have to admit, though I support local bookstores in theory, I rarely visit the one bookstore left in Napa. I love bookstores and libraries, but don’t have much time. So, I do most of my book buying and selling online. I buy and read both e-books and paper books. I enjoy the convenience of e-books: their portability and virtual bookshelf space. I love the smell and texture and “reality” of paper books. As bookstores (and libraries!) adjust to the shift we’re seeing from paper to electronic distribution, I think they will become more like community literary centers, with author readings, book club discussions, writers’ meetings, classes, and so on. They’ll continue to have copies of paper books for readers to browse and purchase, but the focus will shift toward in-person, interactive communities. And that’s something I’d like to see. I might even make time to participate!

    • Thanks for your comment, Amber. I wonder if time is, indeed, a factor for many? Busy lives don’t leave much time for leisurely browsing. I know for me that while time is not so much a factor, convenience and/or practicality is. We’re down to being a one-vehicle family and so I can’t just go browse whenever. I can, however, satisfy some of that need online. I hope a good balance is found so we don’t lose the treasure that is the bookstore.

  2. I love the “book experience” and enjoy browsing the shelves of our charming local indies and attending author events with “real” authors, not Skypped-in ones. (I did love browsing all the on-sale books at B&N and Borders, too.) I order Amazon for specific books I know the locals won’t have or for hardcovers where I can’t wait for the paperback, and Alibris for used books. If real bookstores become only “community lit centers” or pretty storefronts for main street and can’t sell enough books, how will they make enough money to survive? They will have to start charging attendance fees for events and meetings, and that won’t go over well. Sadly, I don’t think there are enough of us print-book readers well off enough to purchase a full-price book – or want to pay full price – so book stores will remain on the edge of extinction.

    • Thanks for your comment, Linda. My fervent hope is that some way will be found to sustain these wonderful businesses that allow everyone access. Competition in pricing has to be a nightmare for the smaller stores as they struggle to keep their doors open. I would miss the personal interactions with staff and visiting authors if all that were to disappear from our landscape.

  3. Pingback: Bookstores, buying habits, digital rights and the end of the world as we know it | Chazz Writes

  4. I get lost in a bookstore, as does one of my daughters–so we go get lost together and regularly. My Kindle has its use, however nothing satisfies my senses like reading a physical book. A great post!

  5. Pingback: Around the (Publishing) World in 100 Years « Karen B. Nelson

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