20 March 2010

Fitting in Bookstores

On Wednesday January Magazine addressed the question “Where Do Bookstores Fit in an Electronic World?”

Because, let’s face it, all this e-book stuff? We’re going to get it right eventually. The electronic readers will be seamless and easy to operate, everything anyone wants to read will be available in that form and all the concerns some people currently have about privacy and piracy will either be overcome or swallowed down. What I’m saying: with electronic books, it’s no longer a question of “if.” Only a matter of “when” and “how.”

But what about bookstores? Where do they fit? And what are publishers and authors doing to make sure that the lifeblood of the publishing industry doesn’t get cut off?
But if publishers and authors stop getting most of their income from bookstores, then those retail outlets won’t be “the lifeblood of the publishing industry” anymore. They’ll be no more important than the door-to-door booksellers of a century ago. The “publishing industry” is not synonymous with the organizations that happen to comprise it today.

The day after that article appeared, Barnes & Noble announced its new CEO, who came to the company as President with lots of experience in digital commerce (HSN.com, Palm) and none in book retailing. B&N has watched digital distribution take down Tower Records, Blockbuster Video, and other brick-and-mortar market leaders. It’s already trying to ride that change with its own digital book reader, the Nook, and other changes to its business.

Eventually Barnes & Noble could go all-digital, distributing books electronically and through the mail like Amazon and letting all those storefronts turn into Ruby Tuesdays. Or it could find a new way to use that real estate, making them into places for booklovers to congregate for paid events, socializing, and other activities that require a physical presence. Unless, of course, we decide we’d prefer to do all those things digitally, too.

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