Would you pay to browse a bookstore’s shelves?

Victoria Barnsley, CEO of HarperCollins UK & International, discussed that concept during a recent interview on BBC’s The Bottom Line with Evan Davis.

“In America, certain shoe shops are charging to try on shoes. These people just go in, try them on and go and order them online,” Barnsley said. “I think the idea of a bookshop becoming a book club is not that insane, actually. You actually pay for the privilege of browsing.”

Pay to browse. In a bookshop.

Victoria Barnsley, HarperCollins UK and Int’l CEO

The idea seemed crazy coming out of Barnsley’s mouth, but some retail stores have done this before. Customers pay a nominal fee to try on shoes or a wedding dress, and the money is taken out of the cost of the item. But that’s only if you buy the item in the store.

“I think the general bookshop is under real threat,” Barnsley added. “I think the specialist bookshop might survive.”

During the interview, Barnsley mentioned how 35 percent of fiction in the United Kingdom is bought through a physical store. It’s also important for readers to discover new books.

But how can they discover books without a brick-and-mortar storefront?

“I don’t want to take the bookshop away,” Barnsley said. “I want to keep it. I think the problem is, will [bookshops] be able to sustain themselves? They are under enormous pressure.”

Michael Tamblyn, the chief content officer of Kobo, participated in the same interview. His company is in competition and also partners with bookstores. Kobo helps readers discover new books, but understands the role that shops play.

However, Tamblyn noted most shops can’t sustain at current sales levels.

“Where does it re-size itself?” Tamblyn said. “What becomes of the new size of the physical book industry? It’s about having a fantastic experience in that store.”