What Happens if Bookstores Go Away?

by: Penny Sansevieri
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What happens if bookstores go away?That sentence alone is enough to send chills down my spine. No bookstores? I can’t imagine a world without them. Yet the fact of the matter is, that’s likely where we are headed.

I don’t often share this, but you know that term “bucket list”? One of my bucket list items is to get locked in a bookstore overnight – with a fully-functioning Starbucks of course because a girl needs her caffeine to stay up all night and dig through the thousands of titles on the shelves. Truth is, that one bucket list dream may never come true (and I suspect, neither will the dinner date with Bradley Cooper, either). Let’s face it, the world is changing rapidly. Amazon is making book access so much easier and without having to get in your car and, you know, drive somewhere. Look, I do love Amazon and what they’ve done for indie authors is tremendous, but the opposite side to all of this good is that bookstores are desperately trying to find a market. Ironically, in the mix of all of this, the independents, once proclaimed to be dead, are not fairing as badly as the chains. Well, the chain: Barnes & Noble.

My prediction, though perhaps wild and seemingly out there, is that we’re going to start seeing more niche stores, so children’s bookstores, all-fiction, etc. because at the end of the day, we are catering to an audience who doesn’t want to have to sift through hundreds of books to find the niche they are looking for. We live in the custom society: custom coffee, custom cars, custom pretty much everything. Would the same go for bookstores? Sure, why not? I also think that we’re going to start seeing a lot more book departments expand within stores. Hallmark has been experimenting with this for years, though granted their book section is small compared to everything else they offer, they could expand this, too. I don’t think you’ll see airport bookstores go away anytime soon. There’s a need there, gotta have something to read on the plane, though the surge of eBook purchases may change the need for those too.

Let’s face it, the structure is changing. Ironically it’s not going in the direction we once thought. A few years ago many bloggers said that libraries were a thing of the past, sweet but ancient dinosaurs. However, libraries have seen a resurgence in a down economy and librarians are eager to keep step with technology, offering eBook lending, etc.

The biggest challenge we face as authors and book promoters is that if, in fact, bookstores go away that takes away a huge chunk of those trusted book connoisseurs who would otherwise be out, on the frontlines, recommending books. Also, the shelf space, which for most of us isn’t really a factor since our books won’t be in bookstores anyway. But for those publishers and titles who depend on bookstores, how will they gain exposure? The answer is, of course, online.

I think as we see the market changing, we’re going to see things like niche social media sites, which despite Facebook’s online real estate could pull in more readers because, again, we want what we want. We don’t want to sift through tons of data to find that great, new read.

Free books and excerpts will become a must. I’ve spoken with a lot of authors who feel this is just something they don’t want to do. The numbers would, however, encourage a second look. Whenever we’ve run freebie campaigns we see a huge uptick in sales after the freebie is over.

Book bloggers: As time progresses, we’ll need more voices out there.  As we do now, we’ll start seeing a lot of niche blog communities popping up and, I dare say, that if the bookstore demise happens we’re going to see a lot more paid reviews.

Paid placement: Yes I think you’ll start seeing much more of this. Though not through ads but through paid content online. Some call it advertorial, and perhaps that’s a better term for it, but I think as we progress content generation to drive sales will become a huge factor.

What can you do now, this far ahead of the curve? Candidly, I think we’ll start seeing the downturn of the bookstore right after Christmas. We’re seeing it now already but as 2013 continues, more and more of the sales numbers are going to be facing a decline. What you can do now is stake your claim. Make friends with bloggers, network, put out good content. Don’t wait for the bookstore rug to be ripped out from under you before you act. Do it now. And when the eventual demise of bookstores happen, you’ll be ready to face that challenge.

Many of us ignore the library market because it’s not glamorous, but guess what? Libraries are a fantastic group of book lovers who could really help your book succeed. Been ignoring the library market in lieu of something more glamorous? You may want to rethink that approach.

No one wants to see bookstores go away, least of all me. But the writing has been on the wall for a while and even if I’m wrong, which would be great, I still think that the online world will become more and more significant in all of the ways I’ve described. Let’s face it. With all of the books published each day in the US, the market has been expanding on one side and shrinking on the other for a while.

So, head to your local bookstore and support them but make sure you keep an eye on the future.

 

 

 

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  • http://www.claudiaputnam.com Claudia Putnam

    That would be terrible because the browsing experience on my ereader is terrible. It’s way better to browse at a bookstore.

  • http://ame.wpengine.com Paula

    Claudia,

    Nothing can beat the experience of being in a bookstore where you can see, touch and smell the books! There are many indie stores that are doing well, which is a good thing, but we’re all better off if Barnes & Noble succeeds too.

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  • http://www.thenonfictionzone.com Cheryl Pickett

    About a year ago, maybe two, Seth Godin predicted that print books will exist, but more like collectables. Those who love them will still love and want them just like other art. If true, that actually bodes well for independents to a point. If they niche as you say, could actually work I think.