I’ve gone on the record here a number of times about my pro-bookstore bias, so I won’t go into it again, but let me start by saying this isn’t a physical vs. digital post. For now at least, we can all agree that physical bookstores exist, and there are people who still wish to patronize them. I am one of those people, but I respect that there are people who have other preferences.
I wandered around the B&N behemoth at the top of Union Square the other day and thought about the ways that stores innovate in what are not the easiest times. As I passed the sizable Lego section of the store on the escalator (and glanced down at the enormous book-reading Lego Men that I’d strongly consider purchasing if they were for sale), I realized that it’s well past the time that I cringed in response to non-book space in the store. Don’t get me wrong: when that particular store expanded their Nook…nook, I was very happy they found space from the DVD/music area and not the bookshelves. But even when I forced myself, I found I was happy that people who might not go out of their way to buy books have to pass tons of books on their way over to build at the Lego table. What use are shelves and shelves and shelves of books that will be returned if no one goes into the store to buy them, after all? However complex the economics, eyes on books seems better than not.
Over the years, we’ve seen stores adding cafés and media and toys and games. We’ve seen stores try to find a home for themselves in a world of e-books with things like the Nook and the customized e-book shelf talkers that Melville House offers indies, as recently reported by Laura Miller in Salon. When I worked at B&N, the store I was in had recently begun an events program (which was nothing new in general, but it’d previously been deemed too small to find the space for them), with signings, readings, story time and writing groups. Whatever the results may be in this time of great change for the industry, I’m pleased any time I see that a piece of the intricate publishing ecosystem won’t go down without a fight (so long as it’s not at the expense of authors, of course—the rest of us are nothing without them).
For those of you who sometimes shop in physical bookstores, what do you see stores doing in a bid for survival? Any great ideas that you think should be adopted more widely? Any ideas you wish they’d try?