The ebook is a real threat to the bricks-and-mortar bookstore in more ways than one. First is the impact of the technology itself. Ebooks can be bought anywhere at any time. That’s a direct challenge to the idea of going someplace to buy physical product, like going to a store to buy a book.
There’s also the effect the ebook might have on major publishers. The ebook makes it easy to self-publish, and puts small presses on the same level cost-wise as the majors. This could cause the majors to make less revenue, and thus publish fewer print books. Fewer print books published means fewer books on the bookstore shelves. Fewer books on the shelves means less income for the stores.
But this suggests one option the stores could choose to fill their shelves. They could be more open to self-published and small-press books. They could even move those books out of the usual (and sometimes hard-to-find) “local author” section and place them in the genre sections where they ought to be.
There’s another option the stores could try. As mentioned last time, one interesting result of a 2008 survey on the book business suggested that bookstores were becoming as much of a place to socialize as to shop. If stores are places for readers to socialize, then presumably among the topics readers would discuss would be books they’ve read. Right now, such an in-person recommendation means a search of the shelves, or a note to download the book later.
Enter the ebook kiosk. Instead of searching shelves, a customer goes to a kiosk. Ideally, each section would have its own kiosk. The customer enters an author name or book title. The screen shows the best matches. All the customer needs is a valid credit card and an e-reader. Choose the ebook, swipe the card, then connect the e-reader wirelessly to the kiosk (or have a file emailed). Once the transaction clears the ebook is sent.
Question is, will the stores embrace these ideas and ones like them?
Increasing small-press and self-published books will require bookstore employees to be more savvy about such books. Stores will also have to step up their own efforts to promote books and rely less on publishers. For the chains, it means profiting by selling fewer copies of more books.
For independents, it means being more genre-friendly, something that literary-centric independents have shunned. As for the ebook kiosk, that will decrease the space stores need to have. Can the chains survive with stores that are smaller in size?
This is the problem the stores are facing in this new publishing enviornment. Dealing with these new problems will require some outside-the-box thinking. Will bookstores be willing to find creative solutions and embrace them fast enough to stay open?
What do you think? Post a comment and let me know.