Escape the Mundane + Experience the Remarkable

The Plight of the Bookstore

For the first time in about a year, I was in Barnes & Noble yesterday buying a book and realized that bookstores – as we currently know them – are on their death bed.

As I stared blankly at the business section, I noticed some favorites and some new books. Most had an attractive title and compelling cover art. But something was missing:

Social proof.

I’ve read hundreds of books and know not to judge a book by its cover. Literally. It may have the most captivating inside flap, yet will leave you wishing for your time and money back.

Big-box bookstores, no matter how well staffed, will never have the ability to guide you into a buying decision the way Amazon or 800-CEO-Read does. I among most other book buyers, base 99.9% of the buying decision on reviews and chatter online for a book.

While yes, they could integrate some kiosks or what not into the store to read reviews, but at that point why leave the house? I can do that from the comfort of my couch and my iPhone’s Amazon app. And have the book on my doorstep the next day.

So What Is A Bookstore Owner To Do?

Over the upcoming years, I’m predicting a huge transition in the ways bookstores position themselves. Just as any other business must focus on a niche in a highly competitive market, bookstores will start segmenting themselves.

If a bookstore is to compete successfully against online stores, the staff and offerings must become extremely compelling. Someone should be able to walk into the store, rattle off a few favorite books to a well-read worker, and within minutes be happily walking out of the store with a book perfectly suited for their desires. If the bookstore can’t accomplish this, they will follow in the footsteps of Borders.

This past weekend I was watching CBS Sunday Morning and they had a great segment on a bookstore doing just that:

Pretty interesting huh?

How I’d do It

If I were to create a bookstore tomorrow I’d include the following:

  • Less than 1,000 books in the store that at least one of the members of the staff have read and enjoyed.
  • An online blog reviewing every book read by the staff.
  • A book club to create a community of enthusiasts and brand advocates.
  • Specials on new arrivals in exchange for reviews of the book.
  • A membership database that tracks what books they’ve read with an algorithm to predict what books they may enjoy.

For the most part, this strategy isn’t rocket-science, but also it isn’t generally implemented. In my experience, even the corner bookstore tries to carry everything from Harry Potter & The Da Vinci Code to Rachel Ray’s Cookbook & Think and Grow Rich. There’s no focus with their offering… and ultimately, no appeal.

So the questions I pose to my fellow book readers:

What do you foresee happening to bookstores? How would you improve the customer experience? Would a mix between an online/offline community be a good fit?

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