With the digital publishing revolution upon us, it seems like bookstores are going the way of the dodo. Borders is in bankruptcy and closing hundreds of stores (including some here in Southern California that I particularly liked), Barnes & Noble can’t seem to sell itself, and some amazing indies have decided to close their doors. Some e-vangelists don’t seem to mind this trend–the future (and some argue present) belongs to the e-book, and traditional bookstores won’t have a major role after the revolution. Books will be found through online marketing, author promotion, and word-of-mouth, they say.
Speaking at GigaOm’s Structure Big Data conference yesterday, Marc Parrish, Barnes and Noble’s VP of Retention and Loyalty Management, made some very interesting comments (as reported by Cyndy Aleo in this GigaOm article). First, he noted that as readers move to e-books, their buying patterns change, favoring a particular author or category, which means that consumers are focusing on a much narrower set of books. When you combine this with evidence that e-book consumers are on average buying more e-books than they did print books, it presents publishers with a challenge: they clearly have a market for established authors–maybe even an easier one to reach–but how do they sell new authors in this environment?
Which leads to the second point Parrish made: bookstores are still the best discovery tool around. All that table, endcap and shelf space is advertising (we all know that it’s bought through co-op), but it’s the best, most-focused, cheapest advertising around. Publishers pay for it because it works. By time someone is in a bookstore, they’re at least peripherally interested in purchasing books. And finding something new is easy with the choices that abound. Even if someone is looking for a particular author, so many other books are presented along the way. (I hate anecdotal evidence, but I will say that while I’ve found new authors in all sorts of bookstores, I’ve never bought a book in an e-bookstore that I wasn’t already looking for.)
Now, I take this with a grain of salt, as B&N clearly has a vested interest in keeping the brick-and-mortar stores alive. But they also have a big investment in digital, and in the book ecosystem generally. I think his conclusion is quite right: bookstores matter. Curious to hear what you think. Are bookstores a necessary and important part of book discovery?