Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Thoughts on Bookstores

A little over a year ago, I blogged about bookstores in On Libraries and Bookstores.  I expressed sadness at the fact that Barnes and Noble had announced a long range plan of a significant number of store closings... but I also said I could understand.  I go into the my local library, and I see that the computer section is getting larger and larger, as is the video game section, the movie section, and the music section.  I've never used a computer at the library, nor have I rented a video or a movie..  but I'm delighted to see these sections. The computer section was enlarged because there was a growing demand for access, and the video and movie sections always have a lot of people using them.  The library still has a lot of books, and continues to add to the collection on a regular basis, but it's important to add these other sections, to keep the library alive.

Yes, yes, I know.  The title of this post is Thoughts on Bookstores, not Thoughts on Libraries... I'm getting to it.

Over the years, Barnes and Noble and other major bookstores, have taken action similar to what my library is doing...  you can buy games, toys, music, videos, and even coffee and pastries at many bookstores.  But clearly, that's not enough.  After all, if I want to buy games and toys, there are specialty stores I could go to.
Similarly, there are store devoted to music and videos, and coffee.  In a sense, for big bookstores to try to sell these non-book items only increases the number of stores they're competing with.    

But I've already posted about the big bookstores.. so why am I writing about this now?

Last week, a friend told me she had bought a small independent bookstore.  She's still keeping her regular job; she sees this as a hobby for the moment, and ultimately something to do in her retirement.  I enthusiastically congratulated her, and wished her well --- I sincerely wish her well, but I'm a bit dubious.  I don't know any of her specific plans, other than the location and the new name.  I will acknowledge that she's in a good area for a bookstore.  And perhaps her plans include some unique and different things that will attract people away from the library, and from online stores, and into her bookstore.  But again, I'm dubious.

You see, not long before this friend told me about her acquisition, Michael Holley put up the following blog post Patterson Beats His Bookshop Drum.  It's not long, and it's worth reading.  Michael - like me - likes bookstores,  has many fond memories of bookstores, and regrets their demise.  But he points out that - if bookstores want to survive, they need to change.  And they need to get creative about it.  And I think he's right.  I also think that the small, local, independent bookstores have a better chance at surviving, than the large one-size-fits-all bookstores.

So while I'm dubious about my friend's new venture, she does have an advantage over a place like Barnes and Noble.  As the owner of an independent bookstore, she can make decisions and implement new measures far easier and far faster than a big corporation.  And perhaps that's the secret, and perhaps it will lead to her success.  She's got a tough road ahead of her.  Not only can she not match the prices of online book sources, but she can't even match the prices of big corporate-owned bookstores.  However there are things she can do...  perhaps she'll have a special section for local authors, or for books set in this region... or something else that the big chain bookstores can't do.  There's something to be said for having specific customers in mind, and catering to them.

Hmmm..  I wonder if she serves tea in her bookstore?  Probably not.  But that's ok, because I have plenty of tea at home.  Yes, it's hot outside, that's all the more reason to drink a cup of hot tea.  Confused?  That's ok... I'll explain it a little later.

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