The Future of the Traditional Bookstore

Here’s more digital ink being spilled on this topic: what should the bookstore do? With ebooks on the rise, print on the decline and increasingly, shelf space being occupied by non-book items, what is the bookstore to do?

Michael Kozlowski thinks they should be making apps, to lessen their reliance on third parties like Google and Amazon. While I think he does fine work over at GoodeReader, I have to disagree with him on this one. We don’t need more apps. We don’t need more ecosystems. We don’t need to fragment a not-quite-settled marketplace yet with still more stuff, for two reasons.

Firstly, this stuff is really hard to get right. Kobo still hasn’t fixed some of the UI complaints dating back to their first-ever ebook reader! Doing it wrong would be worse for a bookstore than not doing it at all. Angry customers won’t be profitable any more than absent ones.

Secondly, most customers are already enmeshed in an ecosystem by now. If your showrooming browser already has a Kindle and Kindle books and Kindle stuff, you’ll need something absolutely spectacular in order to lure him away. It’s an uphill battle, and it’s a battle better fought on other fronts.

Such as? Well, I think affiliate programs might be part of the answer here. I still think we need some sort of QR code system where you can browse a title in a ‘real’ bookstore and scan a code when you do. Then when you do go online to purchase it, the bookseller can get a credit for the buy.

I also think that event tie-ins and non-book items do have a place in the bookstore of today. Cookbook demonstrations, toy exhibitions and so on are all likely bets. Make it an experience, and you’ll bring people back. I’ve seen it.

There are things a bookstore of today CAN do to ensure its survival. Crowding the marketplace with more apps is not, in my opinion, one of them.

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