Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Bookstores

My question to you is: In this rapidly changing world of books, what is the purpose of bookstores? An immediate answer might be: to sell print books. Of course, that’s true. But in this age of digital books is that its primary purpose?

In a column in Publishers Weekly, Chris Morrow said that the bookstore is where people find good books. “The role of the bookstore as showroom, as filter, as arbiter of taste is here to stay and needs nurturing.” He calls bookstores publishers’ “best marketing and sales outlets.”

Personally, I’m not so sure bookstores are the arbiters of taste. Those bookstores carried stacks of Snookie’s lastest book, right next to other celebrity self-promotion books. Every politician, past or wannabe, can get his/her book on the shelves.

I think if bookstores want to stay “the primary vehicle for book discovery” they need to totally revamp their thinking. First, instead of depending on publishers to tell them what is worthy and good, they need to think for themselves. Second, stop carrying three hundred copies of a celebrity or wannabe-celebrity/politician’s book, which in a month they’ll have to return to the publisher. Third, change their entire model of selling books. They can still be the place people browse for books, but they will be a different store. Instead of three or five or fifty copies of a book, they’ll have one. That one copy is for patrons to look through. If they decide they want the book, they have it printed out there on the premises.

Doing it this way would allow a bookstore to have many, many more books “in-stock” and ready to buy. People like going into bookstores. I love browsing through books. But bookstores are not arbiters of taste. And at this point, they can’t shelve enough books. Last week, I wanted a particular, extremely popular book. I went to my local B&N. They didn’t have it. I drove to a close-by town to their B&N. They didn’t stock it. I came home and ordered it online. I wanted that book and I wanted it in print. If they had had an Espresso machine or another such printing machine, they could have printed it in minutes and sold it to me. Instead, they lost a sale and bit by bit, they’re losing customers and money.

What do y’all think?

20 comments:

  1. Never a truer word spoken. I do not have the luxury of large bookshops to browse, here in Cyprus. However, in the UK my favourite store would be a bigger hit, if it did just as you said, Helen.

    I hope you pointed out to both B&N stores, how they let down a potential customer. Suggest your idea, you might hit home. :)

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  2. Makes sense to me. Think that's why so many music stores died - they didn't carry a variety and never had the one CD I was seeking.

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  3. I second your thoughts. When I walk into a bookstore and look at the New Books tables, it seems like I'm seeing merely a marketing agenda. It's kind of like seeing the NorthFace of books. Everyone else is carrying this, so we will too. With no thought. I recently got an eReader, and enjoy browsing for books on that. I've since found and read books that I'd never have read otherwise. I think big changes are in store.

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  4. Sometimes it feels like a huge boulder is rolling down a hill and the bookstores won't get out of its way.

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  5. Yep ... it's a brave new world in the publishing business ... who knows how it will shake out, but your idea of a POD process on-site in a bookstore is a good one ... any support from the power brokers on that one? As to the celebrity/hack that we must all endure, remember that it takes money to run a business and they gotta follow the money. I'm reminded of a quote from the movie Right Stuff, when Yeager is complaining about having to put up with the press and a reporter tells him that it's the press that supports the funding for the space program ... he says, "No bucks, no Buck Rogers."

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  6. Wow, Helen! We often throw the term "brilliant" around like confetti, but in this case it fits. Brilliant idea! Too bad they won't use it...

    Although, all it takes is one far-sighted bookstore to do it and succeed and others will follow.

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  7. I am totally with you on this one, Helen. Makes total sense to me.
    Karen

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  8. Bookstores have diversified in what they offer--meaning not just books--but not enough.

    I realize that the initial outlay might be a bit pricey, but in long run it would pay more than pay for itself. Chains could pick a few strategically placed stores to pilot the program. Even those stores without the machine could showcase a section in the bookstore for those books and either keep a few copies on hand or tell the customer they'll order the book. Having stores in the chain with the machine would make it easier to print the books for the others and send requested books to each other. Have a computer station with other books available.

    The thing is, there are so many authors, even well known authors, going independent. There are so many small publishers putting out good books too. Bookstores are missing customers who want those books in print. Who want to browse and look at those books before buying them.

    I agree that major chains carry too many celebrity type books.

    Sia McKye's Thoughts...OVER COFFEE

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  9. I like your idea for bookstores. Maybe it's a good opening for indies to return.

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  10. More and more of those high advance celebrity books are bombing.

    It would probably be a big risk, Les, but it'd sure be interesting to see it tried.

    Sia, it seems like publishers take a big risk with celebrity books. I think my idea of the future book store is a big risk too. I'd like to see it tried.

    You're right, Carol. Maybe it will be an Indie who tries it.

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  11. Bookstores are the arbiters of good taste the way publishers are the gatekeepers of good writing. As long as the model remains of publishers paying bookstores to put specific books in the front window, or display specific books in the prime locations of the store, I don't have much hope for the future of brick-and-mortar. Your suggestion is a good one. Otherwise, could the tide be turning back to the indy bookstore, re-invented for the new age of publishing?

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  12. So many of the Indies have been forced to close. Wonder if they can make a come-back?

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  13. I agree that POD machines should have a place in every bookstore. Two or three even. The prices have come down considerably since they were first inntroduced back in the early 2000s (or maybe earlier and I didn't hear about them.) It would certainly cut down on inventory and allow for a wider range of genres.

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  14. I still love to walk through and absorb the glory of books. Plus I usually walk out with a purchase. It's a tough business. Amazon is SO easy and does get my money when I know what I want. That's the cheapest way to go. And I also frequent two libraries. If bricks and mortar disappear, I can still read and survive, but gosh it would be sad. Hopefully, B&N can figure out the formula to survive.

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  15. I agree! They need to morph into something akin to a library, where people discover new books. I think the Expresso machine is just the greatest idea ever.

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  16. Well this is a fascinating idea, and I have to admit this Espresso machine (and I take it this has nada to do with java) must be a miracle.
    I've made a few trips around trying to find a book because I wanted it then and I wanted to support the bookstore. Even if it meant waiting for it to be printed, I just love being in a bookstore. The bookstore and it's cafe, for me, are like a bar or meditation or analysis for someone else.

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  17. It does make sense to me. I swear there are fewer choices of books everytime I visit the bookstore.

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  18. It sounds like you want bookstores to be like Best Buy, which isn't a bad thing. I have a tendency to think of bookstores as social outlets for those not into the bar or sports scenes.

    If would be nice if they would learn to have their own opinions of books.

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  19. All I know is my local independent book store, which also used to stock some educational toys, now stocks educational toys and some books.

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  20. Provocative post, Helen! Another difference between a live store and an online version should be one's ability to get help from a human being, but alas, my local B&N's fall down in this capacity as well. Everyone who used to work the floor is now foaming lattes, I suppose.

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