A great article in last Friday's Globe and Mail, Will the last bookstore please turn out the lights?
The main thrust of the article is that while there's a lot of doom and gloom in the industry, there's also some hope and, more importantly, some innovation.
One source of Bleumer's optimism is the "ferocious" level of reading she sees going on among young people. Those ferocious readers will be the regular book buyers of the future. What stores need to do, she insists, is not only focus on old-fashioned face-to-face customer service, but also remain flexible enough to adapt to whatever comes along in the years to come.
Christopher Smith, manager of Ottawa's Collected Works, agrees with the notion that independent stores must evolve or die. He sees two streams of bookselling emerging. In one, bookstores will "transform themselves from mere book purveyors to cultural emporiums or meeting places." Each store will be a "place for minds and activity. ... In a way, the bookstore could be become the new 'salon'" - albeit a salon that offers not only books, but art, music, gift items, coffee and maybe even food and wine. In the other stream, he sees a "new breed of small, specialized book retailers. Bookstores selling books and books alone. Stores that focus on the 'classic' notion of what a bookshop is. Bespoke bookselling, so to speak."
Which isn't to say Smith doesn't have an eye on the e-horizon. He says he daydreams "that in the future I will finish a hand-sell by asking my customer, 'And how would you like that - hardcover, paperback, audio or e-book?'"
But how do those same big-box retailers see the future?
Joel Silver, president of Indigo-Chapters as well as a member of board for Kobo, the e-book service and reader that recently partnered with Borders in the U.S., is, like most booksellers, reluctant to predict the shape of things to come. The industry, he says, "is completely dynamic right now." Silver states that, "the threat of the e-book is a very powerful tool to mobilize a lot of parties in the industry to some new and innovative things." All the same, he comes off like an idealistic indie when he talks about the enduring qualities of a bricks-and-mortar store: "There's a certain energy that a bookstore gives off if it's done well."
As long-time readers know, I've often tied the future of bookstores with libraries, which while not a perfect comparison is one I think has some validity. In this article I like the ideas of creating social learning and intellectual discovery spaces and tying that in with the notion of providing content in whatever container the patron find the most appropriate for their work.
It's exciting times in the book business and it'll be interesting to see how the players realign over the next few years. It's kind of like the way it was in the academic library business 10-15 years ago as the first big waves of web-based journals and databases came online.
The Globe has been running a very nice series on the bookstore business. Most of the articles are very interesting and well worth checking out. Once again, I think all same trends affecting bookstores have valuable implications for the library world. Here are links to the first four: