Reinventing the Modern Book Store: A New Chapter Begins

The digital age has brought about a vast amount of change in how we live our everyday lives and it has had a major impact on the business world as well. One of the most tangible changes has been in the media industry. The increasing interest and reliance on electronic publications and less reliance on traditional paper and ink has taken a toll. Many small, local newspapers have shuttered their windows across the country, while larger, major metropolitan newspapers have become hybrid publishers offering both electronic and hard-copy products. Magazines and book publishers have become hybrids as well. Meanwhile, the book store industry has had to begin an entirely new chapter.

Speculation that physical books will one day disappear, thanks to e-books, is a frequent topic among avid readers, many fearing the worst. Fueling the fire, industry giant Borders filed for bankruptcy in February 2011, and reported it would be turning to sales of e-readers and e-books to save the company. E-books have advantages over real books such as the ability to carry thousands of titles in the palm of one’s hand, but they have disadvantages as well and will never be seen as an ideal replacement for those who prefer ‘real’ books.

Book fans tend to echo one another when defining, nay defending, their passion for ‘real’ books…

“…the touch, the feel, the smell, the texture; the joy of browsing the shelves, viewing covers and brightly colored spines; the wonder of opening to a random page; and most importantly the ability to ‘curl up’ with a really good book…”

E-books are here to stay, there is little doubt of that, but printed books are here to stay as well. E-books, while the fastest growing segment of the publishing industry, account for just 20% of all sales reported by publishers. Growth of the segment was 43% in 2012; very respectable indeed, but down from the triple digit growth seen in the years 2008 through 2011, when they burst into the mainstream. Michael Pietsch, CEO of the Hachette Book Group, cites a survey from 2012 that found half of all readers had no interest in buying e-books and, further, the vast majority of people who buy e-books continue to buy print books as well.

According to IBIS Research, book stores are collectively an $18 billion industry which includes companies selling, “a broad range of book and newspaper merchandise including trade books, textbooks, magazines, paperbacks and religious books, and excludes “retailers that operate primarily as used merchandise stores or electronic shopping and mail-order houses.”

In recent years, the traditional book store industry has suffered as a result of the weak economic climate during the recession, increased competition from e-commerce and mass merchandisers, as well as changing consumer behavior. Industry consolidation and an overall printed book sales decline is expected to continue.

What does all this mean for retail book stores? Will they simply cease to exist and become a quaint throwback, nostalgically remembered as part of the ‘old days?’ Hardly! The industry is certainly undergoing change, but the experts don’t anticipate that happening any time soon. Rather, book stores across America, from small towns to large cities, are writing a new chapter, and reinventing themselves along the way.

Successful book store owners are finding new ways to become an integral part of their communities, providing more than just shelves to browse. They are becoming a community resource, offering space and services for many activities, including:

  • poetry readings
  • game nights
  • book club meetings
  • events (weddings, parties, etc.)
  • young reader activities
  • local author book signings
  • local artist and musician exhibitions
  • writer’s work shops
  • book publishing services
  • printing services*

*”The patented Espresso Book Machine® (EBM) makes a paperback book in minutes, at point of need. Through its EspressNet® digital catalog of content, over seven million in-copyright and public-domain titles are available on the network. The technology is also ideal for self and custom publishing.”

Book stores are expanding their product offerings as well. In addition to the growing trend of on-site coffees shops and cafes, book stores are now providing a wide array of book related merchandise, self-branded items, and even vintage used books right alongside new books of the same genre. In some communities, book stores are partnering with and opening shops inside local libraries!

Book stores provide an experience that digital technology cannot replace. They connect readers to the topics, people and places they love and enjoy the most. People, by and large, believe in book stores, but they need a compelling reason not to order from a faceless online entity just to save a few dollars. As the Huffington Post so eloquently stated in its HuffPost Books blog, “Bookstores will only survive if they make the most of the very attributes that make them not Amazon.”

For any current or prospective business owners interested in the book store industry, GeoMetrx can provide an in-depth site location analysis including demographic, income and traffic data as well as a view of the competitive landscape. Call us at 1.888.848.4436 or visit us on the web to request a demo today.