Thanks to Nate at The Digital Reader for his fascinating recap of an article from a magazine called ‘More Intelligent Life’ which offers a series of concepts for reinventing the physical bookstore.
The concepts had some interesting ideas in them, such as customizable reading areas, and book displays elevated to high art. Some of the ideas are not terribly practical though, and I’m not sure how they could be realistically implemented into the bookstore of today. So, assuming that your goal is a) to keep the retail floor space actually profitable and b) to do so in an actually manageable and ready-to-implement way, what do I think bookstores can actually do to reinvent themselves?
1) Focus on events. The Cookbook Store in Toronto did this, before its closure due to high rents, road construction and other non-Amazon factors. And they did it successfully enough to expand their event space several times over their decades of operation. I’d love to see some thinking outside the box on this. Cooking demonstrations for cookbook titles are an obvious one, but now about kids birthday parties, themed around Lego or Thomas the Train or other popular kids characters? Food, a craft or activity, and a book-themed party favour (perhaps including a coupon for the guest’s parents to come back and shop for more…)
2) Special-interest kiosks. Who needs an artsy display that requires maintenance and people to operate, when a mechanized kiosk can be just as much of a show-stopper, run itself if properly maintained, and actually sell books? The Espresso Machine is an obvious candidate here, but I am thinking also of the Toronto-area bookstore which dispenses random secondhand books via vending machine. A little effort to make it look pretty, to make it a centrepiece, and your little novelty can generate money.
3) Book bundles for the win. It baffles me that they don’t do this already. I don’t just mean bundling the cookbooks with pots and pans, as the article in More Intelligent Life suggests. I mean offering things like author bundles, toy/book hybrid bundles and so on. It seeks more books in two ways. Firstly, it packages them as more of a gift item, which is always a profitable route to take. Secondly, it helps sell smaller items. If you have a choice between a $50 big-ass bundle, or a $15 solo book, you might decide to buy the smaller book instead—and that is a win if you entered the store planning to buy no book at all. It’s all about choices! The more you offer the customer, the better.
4) Exploit the self-publishing boom. Author readings don’t always draw the crowds these days. But what if, instead of merely doing a reading, the author could run a workshop and cater it to the self-publishers? Charge a nominal fee per customer (with the combined proceeds split between the store and the author), finish the workshop with the author’s book signing and a party-favour discount coupon for a run at the Espresso Book Machine. Everybody wins!
5) Go high-tech. Nate talks about this in his write-up too. You can’t keep pretending they won’t buy it online and stay profitable! They need to work out some sort of industry-wide system that lets you scan a QR code or paper cover, or bar code or something, download the ebook immediately to your store account, mobile device or whatever, and allocate a commission to the physical store that sold it to you. This is perhaps a more complex and bigger-ticket wish list item than the rest of it, but it needs to be done.
What else can bookstores do to remain viable and reinvent themselves in this digital age?
(We previously mentioned this article here.)