America is still reading – but bookstores are seeing the continued push towards digital content. eBook online stores are growing in size and number, while retail stores are slowly closing their doors. But is that a bad thing? Change within any industry is inevitable – streaming services forever changed the music and movies industries, the rise of the Internet changed the way video gaming worked, television has been drastically affected by the news and entertainment that online companies now offer – and it’s no different in the publishing industry.
But what’s bad news for publishers and brick-and-mortar bookstores is good news for readers. And not all brick-and-mortal bookstores are fighting a bitter war – some have surrendered and joined the other side willingly.
Bookstores Continue Their Offers Online
Brick-and-mortar may not be the most successful business model today, but that’s not as much a worry to large book retailers as one might think. Some huge retailers – like Barnes and Noble and its eBook branch, BN Readouts – are adapting to the change in trends, taking it in stride. Publishers aren’t giving up – they have their own methods to survive in a digital medium.
Bookstores also understand that, while there is a large difference between print and digital, some things will never change – such as what customers look for in a book. The benefits of a traditional bookstore include the ability to physically pick up a book and scrutinize its cover – and in many cases, its contents – before making a purchase. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to finish a book without buying it, and reading the start of a good novel will only create more demand to read through the whole thing – so it’s a profitable policy for bookstores.
Online retailers haven’t emulated the same book-to-reader intimacy, but they’re coming close by offering access to excerpts, making short blurbs available to the reader, and of course, by attracting customers with buy-in-bulk sales. Another factor that makes a good online bookstore stand out is its customizability. You’ll be hard-pressed to walk into a bookstore and find that its contents have been magically arranged to suit your tastes – but spend enough time in an online bookstore, and you’ll find that that’s exactly what will happen.
Print Isn’t Dead
Digital sales aren’t as robust as some might think, according to a New York Times report. Although it’s a growing niche, it’s still a niche, as most of America still likes its books in, well, book form. The draw of a good, inexpensive paperback is still greater than a deal of novellas for a few bucks a pop, it would seem. The book industry isn’t quite a forked road composed of either print or digital – it’s both, really. Unlike the displacement of CDs and vinyl by digital music, reading a book still involves a great intimacy with the physical pages of a book, something many readers don’t want to let go of just yet.
That means brick-and-mortar shops aren’t in mortal danger yet – but the larger retailers are losing revenue to a different kind of competition.
Independent Bookshops Are Thriving
Indie bookstores are filling a need that the average corporate bookstore doesn’t. While many readers still prefer print to digital, it’s ultimately undeniable that the digital format is more convenient. It’s cheaper, it’s lightweight, and it’s practically immune to the wear and tear of aging pages. But independent bookstores offer something an online store or a corporate bookstore don’t – personality.
Sure, a B&N or public library may be a part of the community’s identity – but indie bookstores thrive almost solely on identity, by giving their own personal flair to the store, and allowing the owner to exercise his entrepreneurial and artistic freedom in ways a franchise bookstore simply cannot. DNAinfo wrote about how independent bookstores are still thriving in New York, for example.
Book-Cafes Are Becoming a Trend
Coffee and books – rivaled only by popcorn and movies – the combination of caffeine and the scent of an old paperback are nostalgic to many, and a welcomed memory to just as many. Some entrepreneurs are taking an advantage of that.
Known simply as book cafes or literature cafes, they’re hubs for teens and boomers alike, and they’re usually meant to appeal to the intellectual community. People can sit down, rent or buy a book they like, sip on a delicious cappuccino, go through their morning emails, and then head on their way to work. For writers, it’s a great place to connect and commune with the local scene, or even pick up a few tips from the classics while remaining undisturbed and saving money.
Print-Only is Keeping Print Alive
Some publishers are taking precautions against the digital revolution by offering authors an innovative new deal – the print-only rights to their book. That way, authors can still self-publish their books digitally, while selling the printing rights of their books to a large publisher – and they can even sell the audio rights to an audiobook publisher.
This appeals to authors as it lets them build three separate sources of revenue, and it appeals to publishers because it makes them competitive by removing the digital market as a competition. Instead of forcing authors to choose between self-publishing and publishing, they give them the option of doing both. It’s a win-win.
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