“I would be the most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves.”
GalleyCat had a provocative post last week, “Is This the Bookstore of Tomorrow?“, spotlighting novelist Moriah Jovan’s anti-septic floorplan anchored by two Espresso machines (POD, not coffee) surrounded by workstations for searching and ordering books, with a corner kiosk for demoing eReaders, and a cash register.
Most notably, there’s not a single printed book in sight.
In her original post, “The Perfect Bookstore“, Jovan cheekily notes that her concept is going to “help [publishers and booksellers] solve all [their] problems”, derisively adding that the 2nd floor of this revolutionary bookstore “could house a coffee shop or used books or books that you wanted to order to keep in stock…”
Never mind the technophiliac focus on the Espresso (a large and expensive piece of machinery), or that eBooks currently represent only 1-2% of total annual book sales; Jovan’s approach completely misses the underlying appeal, and most sustainable premise, of a bookstore: it’s a real-life gathering place for a community.
They took all the trees
Put ’em in a tree museum
And they charged the people
A dollar and a half just to see ’em
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Till it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
“Big Yellow Taxi“, Joni Mitchell
Personal experience is purely anecdotal and highly suspect, of course, but I believe that news of the death of the printed word has been grossly exaggerated. Newspapers are pretty much dead, yes, but books and niche magazines are still alive and well, and as convenient as the Internet is for shopping, that’s not the primary reason people go online.
The Internet isn’t a shopping mall; it’s a virtual town square, and people mainly go online to pass time, for education, and to connect with others. People DO go to bookstores to shop, though, but if the bookstore is well-designed, they also go to pass time, for education, and to connect with others. Hell, bookstore (and library) shelves were the original world wide web browser!
It’s probably no coincidence that the kids section at both Barnes & Noble and the Montclair Book Center (my local indie of choice) are the most welcoming, brightly lit spaces in the store, inviting kids to touch the books, read them, and ultimately enticing them to want to buy something.
On. Every. Single. Visit.
My kids, 6 and 8 years old, are both voracious readers of BOOKS, despite both knowing their way around the Internet (they love Nick.com and iCarly.com, for games and videos) and the presence of a Kindle in our house. One of my son’s favorite series of books, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, has “more than 20 million books in print, and the series remains on numerous bestseller lists.” Another favorite, Scholastic’s 39 Clues, integrates books, collectible cards, and an online game into an engaging multi-media experience that’s “attracted more than 500,000 online game users from 191 countries.”
Notably, neither series of books is available on the Kindle.
Since moving to New Jersey last summer, I’ve seen two Kindles on my daily commute, ever, while books, magazines, smartphones and earphones abound. eReaders will undoubtedly grow in popularity, but the Kindle is akin to the Laserdisc, an intriguing blip on the timeline that leads to the iPhone/iTouch (Blu-Ray?) and far, far beyond. eReaders, though, will not replace books anymore than VHS, DVD and Blu-Ray players replaced movie theatres.
I don’t love the book:movie analogy, but it works a little better than the book:music analogy when polishing off the crystal ball:
- Blockbusters will still warrant their bazillion-copy hardcover print runs, complemented by strategically staggered releases in other formats, including eBooks.
- Coffee Table “art books” will still be targeted to their niche outlets, with limited eBook appeal.
- Niche books will go trade paperback or mass-market, depending on genre, while direct-to-eBook becomes the norm for most low-selling genres (poetry, comic books), as well as the primary outlet for unproven and mid-list authors.
Like movie theatres, bookstores provide a unique experience that cannot be duplicated at home or online, and as home and online viewing of movies became more convenient and affordable (or free), theaters had to improve the experience they offered to stay viable. As a result, we now have better seating, better food, online ticketing, digital sound, IMAX, etc.
Jovan’s vision of the future would be like AMC Theaters becoming Blockbuster stores, a distribution model Netflix destroyed.
The bookstore of the future will undoubtedly have to leverage new technologies like the Espresso and eReaders, not to mention diversifying themselves beyond just selling books, but the key to their sustainability will be defining a clear, viable niche to serve and serving it well. While Barnes & Noble, Borders, et al, will have to go the full AMC IMAX route to sustain themselves, independent bookstores would be better served looking to the Angelika Film Center as their model, while improving and touting the importance of their connection to their local communities.
That’s what MY ideal bookstore of the future, the one I’m hoping to own one of these days, looks like.
What’s yours look like?