The Future for Brick-and-Mortar Bookstores

If Harold Camping’s prophecy came true and the world had ended on May 21st, there wouldn’t be much need to consider the future of indie bookstores. Though we would never pretend to be able to predict how life will unfold for brick-and-mortar retailers, we can pay attention to trends and comment on how these trends will affect our industry.

One of the sessions presented at BookExpo America last month by the Book Industry Study Group focused on today’s “power e-book buyer.” Since we’ve heard from a number of booksellers who feel threatened by the emergence of e-books, as well as a number who are optimistic about the future of retailing in spite of the rapid ascent of e-book sales, we thought it worthwhile to take a closer look at available data and the implications for books in print.

It was no surprise to learn that 66% of those power e-book buyers are women, whose average age is 44 years old and average income is $77,000 per year. And it was also no surprise that about 60% of all titles purchased in e-book format are fiction, that the proprietary e-reading devices belonging to Amazon and Barnes & Noble comprise more than half of the market, and that Amazon has a 65% market share of e-books being purchased. But that’s where the data gets a little interesting.

It looks as if romance is the leader and fastest growing segment of all fiction titles downloaded in e-book format. Some of them are now “interactive,” with features that draw the reader further into the setting and story. Yet for most general trade bookstores, “romance” would hardly be a best-selling section. So it’s difficult to see how this trend would impact an indie bookseller, though it does present an opportunity to cater to that market.

Two of the more interesting nuggets from that session were the findings that customer satisfaction for all e-reader devices was less than 50%, and that the young adult and 20-something age groups were now reporting “digital fatigue.” So what are the implications for storefront retailers?

It suggests that the experience of reading (not to mention the experience of shopping) should be made as much of a priority, if not more, than the physical book. It also suggests that booksellers could appeal to market segments previously ignored, especially by staging some special events catering to specific age groups.

With the growing realization within the publishing community that “print pays the rent,” and with research that shows that the vast majority of readers learn about what to read next from a physical bookstore, it will behoove indies to pay closer attention to the art of retailing, in order to become a showroom for the thousands of new titles being published each year.

We strongly believe that the combination of an attractive and inviting physical space, a thought-filled inventory presented in a variety of formats, along with exceptional customer service and an aggressive calendar of events, will well-serve indie booksellers – and their communities – for many years to come.

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