The Future of Bookshops

So Borders have gone into administration. In an analysis for The Evening Standard, Lucy Tobin describes how independent bookshops might benefit as the sector is hit by the rise in online shopping and supermarket competition.

[James] Daunt reckons his competitive advantage is his “bricks and mortar”. His stores host author talks and events “almost every night” — next month Michael Palin and Will Self are amongst the billing. “We make our stores really nice places to come into,” he says.
That’s the way to survive, according to retail analyst Neil Saunders, at Verdict: “The books industry is still a very difficult market to trade in. Margins are very thin in books, and a lot of people are increasingly focused on price.
“But there’s still a place for the book shop on the High Street because people do like to browse, and a lots of people go into book stores for reading inspiration — that wasn’t really the case with the music industry, and it’s a key differential.”

Tobin’s piece goes hand-in hand with Clay Shirky’s recent post on the decline of the American bookstore, and the Cnut-like attempts of the American Booksellers Association to induce protectionist measures from the US Government. Shirky analyses the ‘value-added’ model described by Tobin and her interviewees. He explains that bookshops will need to start charging for all the extra social benefits like events, or coffee, but also recruit patronage, philanthropists and local subsidies if they want to remain. Finally, he expresses pessimism as to whether this will be possible:

… trying to save local bookstores from otherwise predictably fatal competition by turning some customers into members, patrons, or donors is an observably crazy idea. However, if the sober-minded alternative is waiting for the Justice Department to anoint the American Booksellers Association as a kind of OPEC for ink, even crazy ideas may be worth a try.

One can only hope. The protectionist lobbying of the music and film industries are doing enough damage as it is, without the book industry meddling as well.

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