We Still Need Bookstores

The record store is pretty much extinct. Will bookstores follow?

I hope not.

An interesting article about Barnes & Noble’s efforts to compete against Amazon showed how even the largest and once-feared retailer can become a victim of changing buying habits and the new realities of the digital marketplace.

But more people are probably going to gravitate toward online book-buying rather than the leisurely pursuit of reading options at a bookstore. Barnes & Noble is aware of that, and its CEO William J. Lynch Jr. emphasizes that the company is a technology business, and he’s looking for ways to make the retailer viable, and competitive, as a purveyor of electronic media.

For the author, this might be a sort of sidebar to writing and marketing a book. But no one can take for granted any step of the book-publishing process. Sure, you may opt to self-publish either through print-on-demand or through a digital download of your book. You may think that bookstores are not in your future anyway, as a forward-thinking author. But bookstores are important for everyone. We need spots where we can actually unplug once in a while, even if the bookstore becomes plugged-in. What consumers should have, and authors as well, is choice.

Sure, the music industry underwent enormous changes, and musicians now rely more on performing than on the sale of their records to earn their living. But authors are less performers than musicians are. Authors need to build a platform to ensure that their ideas begin to reach an audience and broaden that audience. And then use that platform to strengthen their business. For authors, a book is a tool toward something else (we’re speaking here mainly of nonfiction authors). It helps build a business.

Even if you eschew traditional publishing and traditional methods of book distribution in favor of digital publishing and distribution, you should be aware that bookstores continue to do one thing well: promote the very idea of books. That’s strong. That’s important. That can help any author, regardless of how that author’s book is distributed.

Close to a million books are published each year, which means that books remain an essential part of our culture.  We nevertheless need to be reminded stop and think and experience words at less-than breakneck speed. Your message is important, and you’ll be building it in increments, adding followers, readers, consumers in a gradual and strengthening way. You want them to last, and stay with you as your platform grows and evolves.

And, after all, you can download a book in seconds. But it takes a bit longer to actually read one.

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