A World Without Bookstores

I find myself pulled in two directions.  I want both the convenience of buying books on-line and the ability to go and browse (and purchase from) a carefully curated bookstore.  But like a petulant child, today I realised I can’t have both.

My favourite bookstore, Village Books in Wandsworth, London, is closing (note that their Dulwich Shop is staying open).  Driven by declining footfall, sales are down 27% over 3 years.  The owner tells me that book stores in the UK are closing at the rate of one a week.  I thought he was exaggerating until I saw this article  saying that 73 bookstores closed in the UK in 2012.

Amazon and the web is winning.

Buying books on the web works well for me when I know the title.  Browsing for books online when I dont know what I want, is still a cold and unsatisfying experience.  The algorithms and recommendation engines can’t yet beat that peaceful and rare “lost in time” experience of browsing for books in a bookstore.  My family love spending their book tokens browsing the shelves. Yes, I know that’s querky and old fashioned….particularly from someone who evangelises about social commerce.

“They will have to get amazon vouchers now”

For books,  it’s only a matter of time before we see the last of the bookshops (indeed with a little more time, I suspect most books will be digital).

But what about other types of shops, what does the future hold for them.  It will be interesting to see how things play out for the likes of fashion and electrical goods with their own pressures from changing consumer behaviour  – clearly they are goods that haven’t been digitised….. yet, or is 3D printing the start?

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10 Comments on “A World Without Bookstores

  1. Nice new site Richard. Whilst I feel sorry for the bookstore, retailers can’t just bury their heads in the sand in any industry.

    1. The bookstore should have been looking at other channels – e.g. as a seller on Amazon. I buy all my books from Amazon – but from other booksellers rather than Amazon itself.
    2. I just did a quick Google search for Village books in Wandsworth and didn’t see their website.
    3. My library is packed. People want to go somewhere to read. Did the bookstore capitalise on the coffee shop+bookstore concept. Personally I’d have invited one of the niche coffee chains (e.g. Taylor St, etc.) to open a franchise in the store.

    As for the future, just like ebooks didn’t mean people would print books at home, I don’t think 3D printing will replace whole stores for a long time (it’s certainly not quick enough and probably not cheap enough materials yet).

  2. Many thanks, Bradley. Some great tips for other retailers, however small – they cant ignore the web anymore and must think multichannel. I love the idea of bringing the coffee into the store, although in their case they would have been pushed for space. Interestingly though, there was a Cafe Nero next door.

  3. I like Bradley’s suggestion of a coffee shop, before I got to that part I was already thinking internet cafe.

    It’s natural to look far another string to your bow, or perhaps to ask what else can I sell my existing traffic? That works online and off.

    Perhaps bookshop owners can use the fact that they already have a profitable business, likely to be in a great location to ‘try out’ other ideas? For example if a book shop has been open 30 years, the town they are in might have grown and there’s potential for something else in that location.

    The problem with trialling a business which becomes profitable in the same space as one which is less so is that one day you have to make a tough decision, and of course we can’t escape the fact that the shop owners first love is books and opening a take away pizzeria might not be their dream.

    Some people run a book shop because that’s their dream, to others the dream is being in business and what you sell or do isn’t important. The challenge for everyone in business is how to react to outside influences.

    There is always a solution, but it’s not always palatable.
    Perhaps the future is an empty high street with shops converted into housing?

  4. Thanks, Mark. Bringing the web into the local bookstore….perhaps even with wifi and tablets, where you can browse and download books on the tablets and as well as purchasing the physical version. As to housing on the high street, the other day someone was talking to me about converting empty shops into schools.

  5. Na, shops will continue to exist – we all need stuff quicker than websites can deliver it. And there’s the social element too.

    Some shops will become manufacturer branded ‘showrooms’ where consumers can see the latest thing and then go away to order it from the cheapest vendor. We already do this with phones and white goods.

    It then takes a company such as John Lewis to innovate with great prices and a longer warranty to sway people away from cheap-as-chips Internet retailers. And that innovation is what I was discussing with the book retailer.

    More now than ever, brick and mortar retailers cannot rest, they need to keep rethinking new possibilities and turn the Internet into a sales channel rather than a competitor.

    Your book shop needed to offer book reading clubs through MeetUp.com, work WITH the Cafe Nero next door, loyalty cards, online sales, GroupOn offers (I don’t usually like this, but it’s a great promotional tool), and so on.

  6. This reminds me of the film “You’ve got Mail” – except it wasn’t big bad Amazon around at that time but a large chain discount bookstore with a coffee shop! And large chain bookstores have not been doing so well lately either…..

  7. Good point made about “You’ve got Mail” which should remind us all that you never know what’s around the corner.

    I remember that post Richard it’s a good one! It made me think of the “WarCraft – Games Workshop” stores. I think it’s Dungeons and Dragons super geek level ten. A store full of kids playing with plastic figures. If that’s your bag then what an entertainment centre!

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