“Brick and Mortar” bookstores, and why they’re failing

Posted: February 9, 2011 in Bookselling, Bookshops, Professional News
Tags: , ,

Of course I want you to say the library is your primary source for books. I sort of have a vested interest in that. While we’re at it, let’s include music CDs, DVDs and books on CD, all things you can get for FREE at your public library.

But sometimes, I know, one would like a personal copy of the materials listed above. And when you do, how often do you visit one of the big chain stores? How much of an impact will it have for you when those eventually go away. And they are. Rapidly.

Borders is a prime example. It’s in serious trouble, in the last stages of treading water before it sinks to the sea bottom. Today I found this article on the presumed reason for its demise, and this is the synopsis:

“In 2001, just as Internet commerce was beginning to thrive, Borders made the mistake of turning its online sales over to Amazon, a competitor, which gained vital customer information such as purchasing habits. “It’s unheard-of,” book publishing expert Al Greco said. “It’s as if Coca-Cola asked Pepsi to distribute Coca-Cola.”

Sure enough, Amazon was able to lure away Borders customers with its slick website functionality, especially the widget that matched a buyer’s choices to other commensurate book titles. By the time Borders finally launched its own online service in 2008, it was way too late to catch up to Amazon and even Barnes & Noble, though that chain is also in trouble.”

Who’s running Borders, anyway? Shouldn’t they hire people with more than half a brain?

Book GIANT Amazon undercuts pretty  much everyone else in price. They seem to have pretty much everything you can think of, including snack bars (I reviewed one for them once!) and electronics. So Borders decided to partner with them, sharing a website?

Really, really bright move. Duh.

I love buying books cheaply, but I also love browsing in actual stores. Sure, it’s fun hopping around Amazon, following their suggested reads and what-not, but it has nowhere near the experience of hanging out at a bookstore, having a latte while you read the first couple chapters of a book you’re considering buying. And, sure, Amazon usually allows you to read some sample pages of their books. But where’s my latte?!

Then there’s the feeling of companionship being around other bookish people, quietly co-existing alongside each other. And I personally love the sound of pages turning. Maybe it’s associated with bedtime stories as a child, but it’s a sound that soothes me. Can Amazon provide that?

Seeing these big chain stores failing is tough. Will Barnes & Noble be far behind? Not far, according to some articles I’ve been reading. They’re in deep trouble, too. With Borders on life support shouldn’t Barnes & Noble be happily taking up the slack? With Amazon’s siren cry apparently not.

The public library will soon be the one left standing. That’s a great, great thing, don’t get me wrong. Still, the loss of any book outlet is a bad thing. It only contributes to the potential demise of the book in general, taking away another source from which people browse or buy books.

How many times have I heard a patron come in and ask for a book he or she just saw at Borders, unwilling to pay the cover price? Answer: several. And that’s partly because their books are arranged by subject rather than the Dewey decimal system, making browsing very easy. And the more browsing someone does, the more unexpected, serendipitous finds.

So, to survive do public libraries need to abandon Dewey and go with the same floor plan as big box bookstores? Kind of makes you think. And should libraries put in coffee bars?  Some already have, but not all can afford it. But for those that can, will that be a good extra draw for people used to drinking coffee while perusing books?

It’s something to consider during these tough economic times, preferably before more libraries are lost and the profession takes any more hits. After all, I never imagined bookstores would just go away *poof!* like that. Kind of makes you wonder what’s next, doesn’t it?

  1. Judson says:

    I want the physical sensory experience of browsing for books over a cup of really good coffee. The people who predict the demise of the bookstore compare it to the fate of the video rental store. They think that readers will take to Kindle the way that movie fans took to Netflix. It won’t happen. Spending and enjoyable afternoon in a nice bookstore is about as close to dashing in and out of a Blockbuster as a day at the beach is to 15 minutes in a tanning booth. I will occasionally buy online … always have … but I will still want to spend time in the bookstore.

    — Judson

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