My Thoughts on the Brave New World: Bookstores

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Jan 18 2011

When I talk to members of the publishing community about all the changes that are happening in publishing these days, I think one of the biggest concerns everyone has is for the bookstore. None of us can imagine life without a bookstore. I’ll admit, I love shopping online almost more than the next person. It’s quick, it’s easy, and it fits into my lifestyle. But it’s not shopping. In my opinion, it’s almost impossible to make an amazing discovery online. I can’t just go to the mystery section because that’s what my brother likes to read and discover something fun and exciting that I know he’s never read before.

I do think bookstores will make it, but I think to do so they need to stop fighting each other, stop worrying about their individual electronic devices, and start coming together as a community. In other words, they need to work together. Do you know what I would like?

I would like to be able to go into a bookstore and browse books, admire covers, read the back blurbs, and buy the book in whatever format I have available to me. I would like to be able to browse the bookstore and enjoy the experience. I would like to have a coffee from the coffee shop while I’m doing this and maybe even drop the kids off for a reading hour so I can shop unencumbered.

How will this work? I’m not sure, primarily because you can simply download the book on your own device and the store gets no credit, but it seems there has to be a way for bookstores to get some sort of credit for whatever books are downloaded from their store, even if it’s for a device that’s different from the one they make themselves.


16 responses to “My Thoughts on the Brave New World: Bookstores”

  1. Avatar M.A.Leslie says:

    This is going to be an important task for the authors too. If authors will stand behind the stores and make themselves more availble for book signings then it will hopefully draw in more crowds. People are always drawn in when there is a line of people, we are too nosy not to look.

    I agree with you, there is a definate advantage to sitting in the coffee shop, inside the store and losing an hour or so.

  2. I'd love to see bookstores become vital parts of their communities again. Look at Book Passage out in California. There's ALWAYS stuff going on. It's a dynamic place and heck, I'd move out that way just for access to the store.

    Once stores are a fun place to hang, business will pick up. And I bet print copies will sell more, too, just because of proximity — and like MA says, autographs. It's hard to sign an e-reader. They only have so much space and are YOU going to sign on top of JK Rowling and obliterate her?

  3. Avatar Mark Terry says:

    And I'd like to add a slight reinforcement to the problem with browsing in an electronic bookstore (which I do all the time), which is that, yes, I know that even brick-and-mortar bookstores frontload bestsellers, but getting past those bestseller pages and search results on Amazon or et al., can be dispiritingly difficult.

  4. Avatar Rosemary says:

    I'm heartsick that my local Borders might be in danger of closing. There are few things in life I like better than browsing the bargain tables at Borders, and following that up with a cup of coffee. I've brought my kids there, I've worked on my novels there, and I've learned a lot about the publishing business just by wandering the aisles there.

  5. One of my favorite chain bookstores has changed so much, I rarely go in there anymore and when I do, I don't browse the way I used to. A large chunk of the store has been given over to selling toys and games and another large section is devoted to e-readers. It doesn't even feel much like a bookstore anymore and I miss it.

    I'm grateful/lucky to have two other chains' stores I can go to, plus an independent store I love.

  6. I just LOVE the SMELL of the bookstore. Try as I might, I can never find that same scent from my computer screen. There is definitely something genuine about browsing the bookstore, coffee in hand, breathing the newly-printed fumes, feeling the pages. I wouldn't trade it for the world. Long live the bookstore. Amen to that!

  7. Avatar Fawn Neun says:

    You know, if I had the capital, I think I could come up with dozens of ideas to keep bookstores thriving.

    It would start with a liquor and coffee house license and a lease on an Espresso.

  8. Avatar ryan field says:

    There's an old indie bookstore in Philadelphia that is trying to do just what you described in this post, Giovanni's Room. I'm making it a point to go whenever I'm in Philly to support them.

  9. Avatar Kate Douglas says:

    Your ideas make sense, Jessica. Now if you could just get TPTB to pay attention!

  10. While we might lose some of the "big" stores, I think you might just see the resurgence of the mom and pop bookstore.

    As to physical stores handling ebooks. That's going to be tough. Right now they are very reasonably priced. If you can download them from and somehow give credit to the bookstores, the price with go up and that means that all e-prices will go up because you can't have a book cost "a" over here and "b" over there or someone won't be happy.

    As a writer who is not yet published, this is a terrifying time. It's never been harder to get an agent and or get published. We are also in the middle of what I call a "genre stale" time. Why are we so afraid to let the lines blur? If you don't put such ridgid requirements on writers, the writing will only flourish, that's what imagination is – no boundries. What's that you say? Where will the bookstore file it? It doesn't matter, most bookstores don't have the space to devote to strict genre filing now. I always have to ask someone for help because the books are never where you think they are.

    Yes, it's a scary time for us all.

  11. Avatar Donna Hosie says:

    I love my local Borders (Canberra, Australia) because the staff know their novels and are friendly; the store is well stocked and laid out, and I can buy other little bits in their as well as have a hot chocolate!

    Compare that to another book store on the lower level which looks like a bomb site. I wouldn't go in there for fear of catching something.

    Great book stores will prevail.

  12. According to "ShelfAwareness," an email newsletter for indie booksellers, the small local bookstore is rebounding as more people focus on shopping locally.

    The indies are also in the process of creating their own ebook stores on their websites so they can get a cut of the ebook pie.

    The subscription to this magazine is free, and I always recommend it to other authors who want to keep up with what's going on with the indies.

  13. Avatar AstonWest says:

    If authors will stand behind the stores and make themselves more available for book signings then it will hopefully draw in more crowds.

    Heck, part of the reason they're dying is they shunned so many local authors en masse after the POD issues of the last decade. In fact, you now have indie stores who are charging a minimum of $50 to hold a signing for POD titles, while some chains won't even bring them in on a consignment basis (which has never made sense to me…you'd think that a store would climb on-board making 40% without any up-front cost in terms of stocking copies, each and every time).

    That's not even counting all the sales lost from their friends and family who come in to buy copies, and then spend their money on other items in the store.

    Authors are readers, and authors in general will buy as many, if not more books than non-writer readers. When you shove them out the door and tell them they're not wanted as authors, you just lost readers willing to spend money in your store.

    At least that's my opinion…

  14. I just wrote a similar blog on my own site. I love the idea of the return of the indie bookstore. The large chains are so focused on numbers in a dying model that they may have lost the ability to adapt. If I had the capital I would be right there with some of you opening a bookstore with a cafe with a liquor license. I have no doubt that there is a technological solution to getting stores credit for e-sales as long the publishers can see a benefit. Perhaps focusing on incremental sales for the new author or smaller houses. It would host book-signings, writers groups and workshops from agents, editors, etc. A hub for the reader and the writer.

  15. Avatar Sheila Cull says:

    I think your thoughts on this are right on the mark. Yes indeed and I agree that your vision of this revolution makes sense.

    Furthermore, I'm not saying this to just butter you up, which I've been accused of, here, on your blog. You don't even represent the type of manuscript I have. I'm a fan of your writing and ideas. Personally I think you'll dent history with your theories.

    Thank you Jessica.

  16. Avatar Michelle Miller says:

    The thing I don't get is when the chains charge significantly less for titles on-line than they do in their stores. It's as though they'd rather us shop on-line than in their stores. I know I'd rather shop locally, even if it is a chain store, because the people who work there are my friends and neighbors and heaven knows we need the jobs.

    Also, it couldn't be too hard to set up a kiosk or come up with an app that would allow us to scan a book's barcode and buy the ebook right there, in the store, as we browse the shelves.