During my August book tour, I visited lots of different bookstores and talked to many different managers.
Several of them mentioned, with some concern, the e-book revolution. One manager went so far as to say that their bookstore would likely resemble an Apple store or a cell phone retailer in a few years—with e-readers and e-reader accessories on display.
She added that bookstore staff would be needed to sell and offer customer support for the readers. They’d have a service department to fix or replace broken e-readers.
And she said, of course, they’d need a lot less retail space. Although they might keep the cafes open since that brought people in. So customers could read books on their e-readers and drink coffee and study.
Although I’ve thought a lot about the e-reading revolution, I’d never really thought of bookstores actually changing. I think I’d just sadly written them off as closing their doors and having an online storefront only.
The one thing that I did hear consistently from the managers was their concern over book browsing. Which is understandable—you wouldn’t be able to pick up an e-book, feel it, or flip through it.
Or could you?
I’m not going to get into the e-reader debate, mostly because I’m resigned to the fate of books at this point and just planning on going with the flow—at least, in this computer-centered future, people are still reading—but I have noticed that my own book-buying habits have been changing, even with the physical books that I buy.
I look online a lot for book recommendations. In fact, I look almost exclusively online for book recommendations. Our newspaper here seems determined to review books that are heavy lit fict (not my current cup of tea), so I’ve had to find reviews elsewhere…and the book bloggers do a bang-up job at it.
I like sites like “What Should I Read Next” which help direct readers to books similar in style and genre to books they’ve enjoyed.
You can frequently read an online preview—a first chapter or an excerpt of the book you’re interested in—of the book you’re interested in. Not quite the same as flipping through a book at the store, but I could get used to it.
And for those of us who say covers can make a difference in our book buying? The covers aren’t going away—they’re right there, online, in living color. So we can judge a book by its cover as often as we like.
I’m fond of the automatically-generated “people who bought this book also bought these books” lists. Frequently I find some really interesting series that way.
What about those specialty bookstores and Mom and Pop bookstores? It kills me, it really does. I love those bookstores. But eventually—maybe they’ll move their stores online? Maybe they’ll still be offering their incredible expertise to readers and directing them to great books…just in a new and different way.
No, there’s nothing like picking up a book—or a pile of books—and flipping through them at the bookstore. Bookstores and libraries have always been my favorite places. I still hope that there would be a need for libraries a long time into the future. It’s hard to be upbeat about all the changes.
But as long as we still have books and readers—that’s the most important thing. We’ll just have to find new ways to discover good books.
How do you shop for books? Online? In a bookstore? How are you finding books to read?