The publishing and bookselling industries have been in uproar in recent years thanks to the growth of e-books, print-on-demand technology, and online bookstores, along with other factors. Is there any future for bricks-and-mortar bookstores? Or are we just going to see more and more closures?
A couple of days ago the publishing world was rocked by the financial collapse of Borders bookstores in the US. The same company owns the Australian icon Angus & Robertson, established in Sydney by a couple of Scotsmen back in 1886, and currently the largest bookstore chain in the country. It will probably take several weeks to know the full effects of the crash for individual bookstores.
With the book itself in a state of flux, bookstores that survive the next decade will have to be highly flexible and adaptable, and may look quite different to the ones that were dominating at the turn of the current century.
Here’s a couple of silly ideas, but could they work?
- The Co-operative: I recently visited a thriving arts co-op in a small country town, and it got me wondering why we couldn’t have such a thing for books. They got the shop for free from the local council, and the artists themselves took turns staffing it on a voluntary basis. Anyone who wanted to exhibit could do so, as long as they took their turn on the roster. The full sale price of an item went straight to its artist. So it was an eclectic mix of local arts and crafts of various prices and varying quality – something for every taste.
What about a book co-op for local writers, independent publishers and self-publishers? All the people who struggle to get shelf-space in regular bookstores, and get lost in the crowd on Amazon, taking their turn to sell each other’s books. It would be an opportunity for a local council to patronize the arts while also providing a meeting point for writers, publishers and their readers. It could even be located in the civic library.
- The Kiosk: When digital cameras began to take over from film, we wondered what would happen to photo kiosks. But it turned out that people actually wanted a print of digital photos too, so the boffins came up with machines to process memory cards, and the photo kiosk lived to print another day.
A throwaway line in an article I read somewhere recently got me thinking about this type of situation for books as well. What about a book kiosk, where customers can leaf through digital samples of books on an iPad, then choose one (or six) to be printed and bound while they have a coffee?
Maybe they’re silly ideas, or maybe someone somewhere is already doing it. O brave new world…
What are your ideas for the future of the bookstore? Do you think we’ll still have bookstores in 2020?