I love bookstores. I love wandering through the shelves. Looking at all the covers, pulling one off, flipping through. If it doesn’t catch my interest, I wander until I find another. Then I’ll stop by the cafe, have a little snack, flip through the books I’ve chosen to see who’s coming home. I’m smiling just thinking about it.
Yet, we’ve all heard that bookstores are in trouble. Recently, even James Patterson wrote a piece in the New York Times saying the government needs to step in and save our bookstores. The new age of e-books is destroying these incredible land marks. J.A. Konrath, along with a number of other indie authors, have written back that it’s okay if traditional book publishing and bookstores go the way of the eight track. Which got me thinking, is that true? Is okay for bookstores to disappear because we can access the same information online? Which led to the next reasonable question: what is it I really love about bookstores?
I imagined walking through a book store (joy!). And then scanning through Amazon looking for a new book (less joyful). But I had an ‘aha!’ moment thinking about those two divergent events. I asked myself, would scrolling through e-books be more enjoyable in a bookstore? I envisioned giant flat-screen screens aligning the aisles instead of book shelves. You touch the screen. Pull up a few books, flip through the first few pages to see if you were interested. If not, swipe them aside and pull up some others. Then wander over to the cafe for a beverage with your book samples downloaded on your e-reader. And honestly? That sounded wonderful!
It made me realize bookstores aren’t just about books. They’re about community, about the experience of buying books. They’re about being around like minded folks, all searching for something to get lost in. It’s about sharing that smile when you see someone else looking at a book you’ve read and loved. It’s about watching kids excitedly sprint for the kids section. It’s about that little thrill of discovery when you find the right book. Bookstores are about the people and the experience as much as the books.
Are bookstore doomed? Not if they adapt. It’s like saying movie theatres will disappear because someone created DVDs (or back in the day Beta tapes). Sure, we all watch movies at home. But there is something almost magical about seeing a movie up on the big screen, in a theatre.
So how do we save bookstores? They need to adapt. Give people what they want: community and an exciting e-book shopping experience. Truly, the best of both worlds. What do you think?