Retail Customer Experience:  What Will Bookstores Look Like in Five Years?

Discussion
Sep 13, 2010
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By James Bickers

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion
is a summary of a current article from Retail Customer Experience, a
daily news portal devoted to helping retailers differentiate the shopping experience.

The
book store segment has already changed much in the past two decades, morphing
from stacks of books on shelves to entertainment destinations that are as much
about the coffee as anything else. But with the burgeoning e-reader market, it
looks like the coming years might bring the biggest changes it has ever seen.

“I
think that the megastore as we know it today will disappear from many towns
and those that remain will be only in large urban centers,” said Richard
Day, publisher of Self-Councel press, which has published DIY legal books since
1971. “My expectation is that bookstores will revert to what they once
were: smaller, neighborhood stores concentrating on selling print and digital
to an audience with common genre interests. The stores may be book/coffee/tea
shop hybrids, with a while-you-wait book printing facility, digital connections
to facilitate e-book browsing and purchase, and staff who know and love the
books they sell.”

San Diego bookstore, Mysterious Galaxy, focuses its efforts
on mystery, suspense, sci-fi, fantasy and horror. Owner Mary Elizabeth Hart
believes that, as instant electronic delivery of content becomes more pervasive,
bookstores will become more about local focus and topical passion.

She said, “I
think there will be an emphasis on the community each store offers, and their
community area will be a focus, whatever their inventory combination of traditional
books, Espresso machines (a print-on-demand device that can create a book in
a few minutes) and electronic books. I think the other area of emphasis will
be our booksellers and their information. Regardless of format, readers look
to booksellers as guides among the vast quantity of available reading material
out there.”

Melanie Tighe, owner of Dog-Eared Pages in Phoenix, AZ, said
the many emerging electronic options can’t replace the bookstore experience.

“The hours that can be wasted browsing shelves,” said Ms. Tighe. “The
feel of the book in your hand as you flip it over to peruse the back cover.
The spontaneous meeting of like minds reaching for the same shelf. I think
bookstores will survive, but as an endangered species, a species that needs
to be cared for by the community.”

Discussion Questions: What will the brick & mortar bookstore model look
like in five years? Are you as optimistic as the respondents in the article about
the prospects for the local book store?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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23 Comments on "Retail Customer Experience:  What Will Bookstores Look Like in Five Years?"


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David Livingston
Guest
10 years 7 months ago

I’ve seen the bookstore of the future. It’s called the public library. I’ve been to a few libraries in upscale suburban areas and I thought I was in a combo of Barnes & Noble and Blockbuster. They had all the new technology while also maintaining books and movies from the past. Coffee shops, author signings, helpful employees, social gathering, etc. Why would anyone go to a bookstore when the library offers more for free?

Doug Stephens
Guest
Doug Stephens
10 years 7 months ago

From what I’m seeing, we will likely end up with two models; One a multimedia digital environment driven by a robust Wi-Fi network that provides digital content (free and otherwise) to guests. Guests can browse available titles, peruse promotional content and download e-books while enjoying a store environment conducive to reading. The network will be sponsored by both publishers and other advertisers including film studios and television networks, which will subsidize the cost of the free content and also provide a new revenue stream to the book seller.

The other book store environment will be purely for rare and collectible printed books. A place where true aficionados can go to find prized editions.

John Boccuzzi, Jr.
Guest
John Boccuzzi, Jr.
10 years 7 months ago
With technology advances coming so quickly now it is hard to predict what a bookstore might look like so I will share my idea of what I hope every small town has in the future. The rise of independent book stores that know their communities and customers will be on the rise. Local bookstores like R.J. Julia located in Madison, CT will be thriving and a hub for small towns. A meeting place for the community. Espresso machines will be whirling up hot drinks for customers as they wait to gather for their weekly book club on a Wednesday night. Book stores will also have 1-3 small rooms with couches, tables and chairs that can host community, club and small town meetings. There will be a children’s story pit where pre-school children will come with their parents to hear the latest tale about Peter Rabbit and a loft for “tweens” that want to gather and discuss the latest vampire book or work on a school project. Electronic reader’s and machines that can print books on… Read more »
Roger Saunders
Guest
10 years 7 months ago
Bookstores have to understand how the e-readers are a “threat,” but they also have to view how it can be an “opportunity.” The transition is not going to happen overnight. Based on the 23,000+ Adult respondents from the BIGresearch ‘Simultaneous Media Usage Survey (SIMM), which was fielded in June, 2010, the pioneers using the ‘new’ tech toys are on the march. When asked: “Do you have these devices,” the response levels are: Kindle – 2.7% of Adults,4.0% of Adults in HH with $50,000+Nook – 1.0% of Adults,1.2% of Adults in HH with $50,000+iPad – 2.5% of Adults,3.1% of Adults in HH with $50,000+Sony Reader 1.4%, 1.9% of Adults $50,000+, respectively And, these same Adults are quickly beginning to download to the instruments. Book stores have to work on understanding how they can be a part of the “opportunity.” It may mean a different type of ‘Super Store’, be a part of training the consumer, exploring revenue-sharing space, etc. If the book stores don’t figure this out, someone else will determine their future, be that a… Read more »
Kevin Graff
Guest
10 years 7 months ago

What’s for certain is that there will far fewer bookstores, of all types, in the very near future. Sure, there’s the emotional ‘hook’ of having a book in one’s hands for some, but I’m guessing not nearly enough to sustain the segment as a whole. If I can have hundreds of my books in my e-reader, and download instantly from my coach or the airport any book I want, why would I go to the bookstore?

The author’s view in the article above, and the supporting comments by the retailers quoted, are dead on. Book stores will need to be about the experience, not the product. They will need to deliver something to the consumer that they can’t get online. I can get the product and lots of information online. What I can’t get is the experience of actually engaging with a store and its environment and staff.

Liz Crawford
Guest
10 years 7 months ago

I agree with the writer that bookstores will focus around communities with topical passions–pets, environment, cooking, etc. Or possibly around groups of like-minded people, as noted by Cass Sunstein in “Going To Extremes.”

Gene Detroyer
Guest
10 years 7 months ago

SMALLER AND FEWER!

My original thought was as the article suggests, the comeback of the small local book store. However, prompted by the question in today’s discussion, I amend my prognostication. Perhaps, well beyond 5 years, but maybe not.

THERE WILL BE NO BOOKSTORES! My son and daughter-in-law are avid readers, averaging more than 2 books per month. My daughter-in-law reads books exclusively. My son reads e-books exclusively. Neither has been to a book store, large or small in years. Maybe as many as 5 or more?

Bookstores for books will be gone. Consider the recorded music business. First there were small independent stores. Then there were chains of small stores. Then there were superstores. Then there were none. Follow the music and maybe we will find books in Starbucks.

Bill Emerson
Guest
Bill Emerson
10 years 7 months ago

Bookstores, like blacksmiths, are being displaced by a new technology. As to the future of bookstores, there are still blacksmiths and tack shops for a small, usually well-heeled, exurban market. Accordingly, there will always be a bookstore channel of some sort, but it will be, as noted, extremely localized, out-of-circulation publications, and all about the experience (meet the author, discussion groups, etc.). Kind of sounds like what bookstores used to be pre-category killer, doesn’t it?

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
10 years 7 months ago

Because of the small marketplace penetration of the eReaders, and because of the long history of the printed word, the consumer will take years and years to go away entirely from the paper book, as opposed to simply moving from one relatively new electronic media to another format (e.g., DVD to Blu-ray).

Will the channel for selling them evolve? Of course, it already has. However, bookstores will continue to offer services that attract consumers into their stores. Coffee won’t go out of style for even longer!

Jonathan Marek
Guest
10 years 7 months ago

Bookstores should look to Best Buy as a model for overcoming these types of changes. Make the in-store experience a positive one, and leverage in-store and digital integration. Find knowledgeable, motivated staff who enjoy talking about the products. Keep testing new semi-related categories to leverage the real estate, and find some that stick. For the big chains, at least, take advantage of weaker rivals going out of business (look how Circuit City has helped Best Buy’s comps). Partner with vendors (i.e., publishers) to create unique in-store environments, events, and entertainment. It’s not a perfect analogy, or a perfect road map, but it’s the best hope for a bright future.

Bill Robinson
Guest
Bill Robinson
10 years 7 months ago
Bookstores are on the same path to destruction as video stores and record/CD stores. The old model will not work without aggressive adoption of new technology and without greater customer focus. Mass marketing will be online. Micro-marketing will be in brick and mortar. They can converge in the physical world with a very different store that feels like a community hub, acts like a technical resource and overlaps with a library. How can you in the book store industry get ready? Your Business Intelligence systems need to step it up. You must differentiate ebook buyers from traditional and track them like it means everything, because it does. Your understanding of local preferences must constantly improve as you study the consumer reaction to different offerings, displays, and products. You have to test with precision each of your innovations in multiple markets and go with what your consumer tells you. You are going to have to become really good at changing your model. This is tough when you are going for quarterly results and have several hundred… Read more »
Ted Hurlbut
Guest
Ted Hurlbut
10 years 7 months ago

Walk into a B&N, and you can see how they’re responding. They are aggressively seeking to expand their offerings into related and complementary categories to more fully reflect the lifestyle of their core customer. They are exploring digital. They are trying to create an environment where customers will linger.

In the next five years, I don’t think you will see dramatic changes in the industry. Specialty bookstores that can find their niche and customer will do OK. Layering in used books will help. It’s not a growth segment, however. Borders will continue to struggle, perhaps disappear, and B&N will continue to test categories, technologies and prototypes while expanding very cautiously.

Beyond five years, I think we’re all just guessing. It’s easy to imagine a pure digital environment, but is that world around the corner or on the very distant horizon? Will the pace of digital adoption be as quick as it was for recorded music? My guess is that it will not be as quick as that.

Dan Berthiaume
Guest
Dan Berthiaume
10 years 7 months ago

I would not be surprised to see a back-to-print movement among a small group of hardcore literature fans, much like the back-to-vinyl movement among serious music fans. It will not be enough to support superstores (which will mostly go online or operate on/near college campuses), but will support local indie retailers motivated more by a love of the product than raw profit. Authors like James Patterson will have their books available digital-only, while authors like Charles Bukowski will still have print editions (similarly, Bon Jovi is not rushing to put out new vinyl, but Neil Young is).

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
10 years 7 months ago

When thinking on what bookstores will look like in five years; I can’t help but recall the Tom Hanks movie “You’ve Got Mail.” That showed the demise of the local booksellers and mammoth strength of the huge megastores.

Now we see the pendulum shifting. But those past store owners are not around to re “kindle” the flame that attracted their original customers and browsers.

The future brick and mortar locations should be smaller in footage yet still contain the coffee shop ambiance. These next-generation stores will want browsers to stay around longer. They will be specialty destination spots, especially on weekend evenings as we stroll the areas.

Several have mentioned the local libraries. Those that are still around after civic budget cuts should begin to thrive again.

George Whalin
Guest
George Whalin
10 years 7 months ago

It’s great fun to predict the future even though I don’t know of anyone who can actually tell what will happen with bookstores at some point in the future. To simply predict they will no longer exist is foolhardy. They have been around a long time and have adapted quite well to changes in their merchandise and the needs of customers.

All one has to do is visit the Barnes and Noble in my community and you will find any day that it is busy with customers browsing the aisles, sitting in the comfy chairs reading and even sitting on the floor reading. On the weekend the store is even more crowded.

Yes, there is a revolution going on in the publishing business and it will make publishers better at what they do. As a published author I believe publishers that don’t adapt will disappear, as they should. The same is true for booksellers.

Herb Sorensen
Guest
10 years 7 months ago

It is all about the experience, with experts managing the affair, like-minded shoppers, and the look and feel of book, cover, paper, etc.

“Experts” become narrower and narrower, each with a smaller and smaller audience. This in turn diminishes, too, the socialization of like-minded shoppers, specific to content and genre. (Of course, general socialization remains.) The ability to produce a quality, comprehensive look and feel, though technically feasible, will diminish as a consequence of the diminishing audience.

This creates a very bleak picture. However, recent experience with acquiring a couple recumbent “trikes” from a rare bike shop that specializes in such machines, demonstrates that however small the size of the market, with attendant costs, there will be pockets of survivors of paper books. This is always a base for a resurgence of interest. Who knows?

Lee Peterson
Guest
10 years 7 months ago

Five years from now will just be an exacerbation of the current model, which is: fewer, better, WAY more wired stores and the rest online. The only real question is; can independent stores fill the gap for a true “reading” experience (including books! Remember those?) the way that independent record stores are now satisfying avid music fans? Let’s hope so.

Mark Johnson
Guest
Mark Johnson
10 years 7 months ago

We will see substantial changes. First off, I am a person who reads 30-50 books a year and have been a member of Audible for 9 years (having almost 400 books through Audible). I tended to buy the book and also have it on Audible.

Now I tend to buy the book on the Nook and have it on Audible and if it is a good title. I will buy it for the library since it has a certain cache. Yet I never feel the need, nor do I have the time, to go to a book store. The Nook, Amazon, and Audible provide me with plenty of options that the bookstore does not.

Although the right author (Mitt Romney) may make me attend a Joseph Beth Book signing.

James Tenser
Guest
10 years 7 months ago

Media sage Marshall McLuhan wisely observed that new media technologies tend to displace (but not eliminate) older ones. Examples are numerous throughout history: Writing displaced oral traditions. The printing press displaced manuscript books. Photography displaced portrait-painting. Television displaced radio. Print-on-demand displaced small press book publishing.

When such displacement occurs, McLuhan argued (I paraphrase here), the legacy medium tends not to disappear, but to evolve into an art form, practiced and sustained by a specialized few.

We may see this type of evolution in book selling. E-readers and online bookstores offer distinct practical advantages but sacrifice certain aesthetics. The musty browsing experience of the old Barnes & Noble flagship store in Manhattan is already a quaint memory for me, but I take considerable solace from the inviting atmosphere of my local B&N superstore and the vast selection available online.

As a writer, I’m grateful for the limitless recall of the World Wide Web – our books may never be printed, but they will never be out of print.

Bobby Darnell
Guest
Bobby Darnell
10 years 7 months ago

I have to say that I second Bill Robinson’s comments. If books follow tunes, then I don’t see the need for hard copies. I have to say I hope the bookstores stay viable as I do enjoy the ‘cheap date’ of us going to our local store, killing a few hours, coffee and dessert.

Jerry Gelsomino
Guest
10 years 7 months ago

Never mentioned, but there exist thousands of book cover graphic designers and print production houses that will be threatened by e-books. Those hours wasted in the old bookstores mentioned earlier were probably in hopes of finding a title that visually caught your eye.

What is the future of these people?

What is the future of the knowledgeable book concierge who has read the book and gives you a personal recommendation?

Bookstores are more than a place to house books, they are a place where all levels of communication takes place.

Gotta be quiet in a library. . . shhh!

Stephen Fister
Guest
Stephen Fister
10 years 7 months ago

While I personally hope for the success of the small independent book stores, I think the deciding factor will be the publishers. Like all manufactured items, the smaller the run, the more expensive the product. When total runs are 20,000 or less, the pricing will reduce the market even further. I am not necessarily talking about novels, but beautifully illustrated publications or hard covered children’s books. When it is no longer profitable for the publisher, there will be no product for the bookseller, end of story!!!

Christopher P. Ramey
Guest
10 years 7 months ago

The contraction of bookstores will continue. But, book stores are not going away.

Kindle and its competitors have the current buzz, and are cool & fast (to download). However, books remain a superior reading experience. New does not always mean better.

Furthermore, many book stores have done an excellent job creating a community in their stores. Bookstores will re-think what their product is, and evolve into something far greater as they leverage their greatest strength; their community.

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