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The Fading Bookstore

“In-store business has all but disappeared,” explained Greg Ketter in a letter explaining the shuttering of his retail store DreamHaven in Minneapolis at the end of January. The store is closing its brick-and-mortar operation, but keeping its online business. It’s another sign of the fading of the actual bookstore experience. Which is a pity.

Sure, people more and more buy online. But the bookstore experience is special. Even in today’s online atmosphere where people are time-pressed in all areas of their lives and often use a bookstore as a place to get an idea of what they’re later going to buy with the click of a mouse or the push of a finger on a tablet.

Barnes & Noble is trying to keep its own bookstore experience alive by emphasizing not only the atmosphere of these de facto community centers, but by building special areas near the entrance for its Nook e-reader. They’re kind of arcades for e-reading, and given that these stores happen to remain well-trafficked, it’s a good idea — a combination of instore and e-store.

But Barnes & Noble still has clout, even though landlords no longer seem to consider bookstores good for the neighborhood (landlords never consider the neighborhood, only whatever they can gauge from tenants). In Manhattan, the venerable St. Mark’s Bookstore is hoping for a price cut of $5,000 per month from its landlord, Cooper Union. As one commentator suggested, though, people who want to save the bookstore might actually enter it from time to time and buy some books.

That’s a dilemma: will bookstores actually make enough from retail business to stay in business?

People do like to shop. Think of clothing stores — while there might be traffic ups and downs, people still go into them and walk out with something. At least from time to time. For bookstores, the paradigm has shifted. We’ve moved away from the bookstore experience in some way.

Even author signings are different. Some stores, such as Rainy Day Books, in Kansas City, KS, charge for author events, held not at the store itself, but at a nearby library or auditorium. It makes the author appearance something more like theater and less like the same-old, same-old. At the 92nd St. Y in New York, the author program costs about $19, and you get a reading from two authors, along with a carefully selected question-and-answer period. These are popular author-as-entertainment events that show that audiences and readers still like to connect in person with someone whose writing they admire or even cherish.

But you know what’s really telling?

These events aren’t held at bookstores.

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One Response to “The Fading Bookstore”

  1. Aldous Irving Jimenez-Echegoye October 31, 2011 at 4:48 pm #

    To be honest, I still want the bookstore experience.  When I want to relax with my kids, I bring them to the bookstore where we can read books…real hardbound books.  My family and I always love the experience.  I also encourage my kids to read books.

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