I’ve seen a flurry of articles lately documenting the increasingly shrinking quantity of shelf space in bookstores being devoted to actual books.

bookstoreMy local Indigo has an entire level that stocks almost no books at all—it’s got magazines, the Kobo kiosk, the cash desk area and a large selection of high-end housewares with a few shelves of themed books thrown in (decorating, cookbooks and garden books mostly, placed strategically with related non-book merchandise).

All the actual books for reading are on the second level. Not the bookstore of my youth by any means!

But is there a way to do a store like this and still promote the actual books themselves? I saw two bookstores this weekend attempting to do just that with book-related “experiences,” and I wonder if this will be the way of the future for book-selling, especially for smaller niche stores that can take a cool theme and run with it.

Here’s what I saw:

The Kid Experience

This store had a very large kids area, and they had expanded beyond the train table to a full kiddie play area. The large play table also had Legos, both of the boy and girl variety, and a generous complement of art supplies.

bookstoreAnd yes, there were toys for sale to go with it—but there were books, too. And while we weren’t the only people who availed themselves of the free toys and left empty-handed, we did look at several things we plan to buy later.

So why not take it a step further and offer a more structured approach here? Take something like a kiddie craft book—why not bring someone in to run a workshop making a craft from the book? Parents could pay a fixed price for it which would include a copy of the book at the end.

Or how about a birthday party option where parents could rent out the play-area section for a train-themed story with a costumed reader, and some play time at the train table after the cake and treats? The store could even put together goody bags with small paperback stories and store-branded little trains. The possibilities for kid-themed bookstore experiences are endless!

The Cooking Experience

I wrote in April about The Cookbook Store, a local institution that is doing a lot right in niche book selling.

bookstoreThis weekend, I saw a major chain store trying their hand at the same thing: While browsing, we passed a large roped-off table with a sign on it reading, “Reserved for meeting of the Cookbook Club,” and a little placard showing the cover of the book they would be discussing. As we were leaving, we saw staff members bringing out trays of food featuring recipes presumably from the book in question.

What a great idea! I’m a horrible cook who is forever trying to do better, and I keep buying a few new cookbooks a year, still looking for that one magical tome that will make it all come together for me. A little guidance might be all I need to set me on the right path.

I’d happily pay a fixed monthly fee for a lesson and demonstration, with book included. I’d even pay—if it was done well enough—for a book I might not realistically cook from at home. It would be a night’s worth of entertainment, with bonus book party favor!

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These are just two examples of ways that bookstores can create experiences that keep customers coming back again and again—and also move book product.

Good idea? Bad idea? What do you think?


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