“Bookstores are in danger of becoming dinosaurs if they don’t pay attention and respond to consumer changes,” says Ken Nisch, chairman of JGA Inc. (Southfield, Mich.), which has done consulting and design work for Borders. “There are fewer and fewer books in bookstores, just as there are fewer CDs in music stores and fewer DVDs in movie rental stores.”
The cause: a proliferation of new media that are replacing the printed page in people’s lives. More and more people today read their newspapers on the Internet and download their reading materials onto Blackberries and iPhones. So two months ago, to get into the game, Barnes & Noble paid $15.7 million to buy Fictionwise, an online retailer of electronic books.
It’s not the first time the superstore chains have had to peer into a future being reshaped by technology. In the 1990s, Amazon.com changed the face of book retailing when it began selling books online. Today, the technology that threatens bricks-and-mortar bookselling is the dissemination of digital books and other electronic reading devices. And once again it’s Amazon, which makes and sells the Kindle electronic book reader.
Nisch envisions a store of the future that fills empty spaces like that with educational seminars, travel services, product demonstrations, cooking classes and new-product launches, research tools, financial advice, movie screenings and musical concerts.
“The bookstores’ most valuable asset is their customer base,” he says. “There may be fewer customers, but they tend to be well-educated, affluent, loyal and intellectually curious. Their bookstore dwell-time is above average and they see books as a way to actualize their lives. So they may read fiction in some digital form, but they’ll likely continue to buy coffee table books or reference books on cooking, travel, arts, design, etc.”
They also tend to nurture and encourage their children. Children’s books are one of the few growth areas, though that might have been part of the now-ended Harry Potter phenomenon. Independent children’s bookstores have been resilient. They’ve been smart in tying their book offerings to movies, TV shows and video games with which children are already familiar. They have large selections of foreign-language books, a nod to the increasingly multi-cultural U.S. population. And they fill their stores with colorful, fun reading areas. Both Barnes & Noble and Borders have been increasing the size of their kids’ books departments and introducing reading programs and movie videos.
“It’s a worthwhile activity that parents and children can share,” Nisch says. “And while the parents are in the store with their children, the retailers hope they’ll wander over to the books, or greeting cards, or calendars or gift items, or just get a cup of coffee.”
Okay, so we know the bookstores are chasing after the same programs and services library have worked to develop but if we were doing it well in the eyes of our customers, we wouldn't be at risk of loosing them. Do you feel your library would be safe if the B&N store started offered the same programs as your library? If not, then you have a beginning point to start thinking of what you need to change or upgrade.
If people are going to bookstores and libraries want to feel affirmation of living a self actualized life, then the question that begs to be answered is whether we are creating the environment where people can achieve that feeling.
Many libraries are already there or well on their way. Ideas include merchandising practices like running travel videos in the travel section of the library, offering free online postcards and greeting cards that are designed to let customers share their experience with friends while waiting for their child, drop-in speaker discussion sessions, product demonstrations, concerts or author series conducted on the main floor rather than a meeting room. Download sections, newsrooms with TV screens and games or comprehensive educational programs. Live streaming comment boards where people can write inspirational comments that run continuously on a screen. What else have you been seeing?