images.jpegWhen I’ve thought about the bookstore of the future, I have envisioned it as a mix of ebook and print book—a print on demand machine that can scan the barcode and order you up an e-version, custom coupons delivered to your e-reader while you’re in the store and that sort of thing. But what if the bookstore as simply a seller of books is entirely too narrow a vision?

A local entrepreneur has opened a new bookstore in my area that he sees as the ‘bookstore of the future‘  and it’s an interesting spin on things:

“He envisioned a collective. One that not only sells second-hand books, but houses publishers, reading groups, writing classes – a whole spectrum of the reading experience housed under one roof…an opportunity for us to think of a book as not a thing in and of itself, but as part of a larger process.”

What an interesting idea! I wonder what other new models will emerge under a similar vein. Will the owner, Mr. Rovito make more money renting office space to the local arts magazine than he will on selling books? Maybe. But maybe he has also found a way for a book lover to earn a living for himself by surrounding himself with his passion.

We’re already seeing the ‘books plus coffee shop’ model. Is ‘books plus office and meeting space’ such a stretch then? And what other ‘books plus’ business plans might be successful?

I’d love to see a space designed for kids, maybe something like ‘build a bear’ but book-related. Perhaps, in addition to selling regular kids books, children could use a special computer to customize the text and illustrations for their own print-on-demand picture book title. School groups and birthday parties could complement the usual foot traffic.

Or perhaps there could be some kind of book museum or model printing press exhibit that school groups could visit as an adjunct to a book store geared to them. Add in some snack sales (my own students have visited several field trip venues where outside snacks were prohibited and the school had to purchase them on the kid’s behalf) and some standardized pricing on the books (for $5 more, every kid leaves with a book) and one could have a very attractive package for schools and tours.

Or how about other ‘book plus class’ combinations? Another indie store in my local landscape specializes in cookbooks. Why couldn’t they offer cooking classes to complement that? Might our now-defunct local art book store still be in business if they had thought about offering art classes as a sideline? Or how about a wellness store selling health and fitness titles and offering classes in yoga or exercise?

Another idea is a bookstore-plus-library combination. Our local public library has a small cart in each branch selling remaindered books. Why stop there? Partner with a local used bookstore and split the proceeds. Philanthropic-minded customers will spend more to support a good cause, and both the library and the indie store will benefit. It’s co-branding at its finest.

I do think books will survive well into the digital age. I’ve said before that I think children’s books are a growth area (I would never give an ebook reader to a child younger than chapter book age, and not just because of technological considerations!) and I think used books will enjoy a healthy market too. And there really are some people who will continue to enjoy the paper versions, whether it’s because they enjoy the browsing experience or because they enjoy the book as a gift item.

So there is money to be made in catering to the various markets. Either you integrate the e-stuff and set yourself up as a browsery for those customers, or you integrate something else and set yourself as as ‘books plus.’ Books plus coffee shop? Books plus meeting space? Books plus sale-able experience? There are plenty of options. It could be an interesting future for us bibliophiles!


  1. Okay, I agree there’s value to a display space. Put hardback books, cover out. Let people buy hardbacks or download to their devices. If I were BN, I’d figure out how to do BN for Kindle. Fictionwise already has a Kindle store so it’s not impossible. Nice coffee shop for sitting and enjoying.

    Can we kill used books? Used books are not positive for authors or publishers.

    When I hear co-op, my mind says ‘kaching. They want money from me.’ Well, I guess all bookstores want money from publishers as well as from consumers. Fair enough. I suspect I don’t like it because it’s one more barrier for small publishers to hurdle.

    Rob Preece

  2. @Rob Preece: Fictionwise’s “Kindle store” only carries DRM-free MOBI format from Fictionwise’s MultiFormat list. It doesn’t carry any DRMed titles.

    To my knowledge, there is no source for DRMed Kindle e-books except Amazon. If there is, someone please tell all those Kindle owners who are ticked off that they simply can’t get the latest Penguin releases. 🙂

  3. @Rob – is it really the case that “Used books are not positive for authors or publishers.”? Especially for smaller publishers/authors, it is surely better for more people to be exposed to their books (via used book purchases) than for people to hoard books or otherwise dispose of them. If I buy a good used book I will be a lot more likely to then buy a new book from the same author or publisher as I already have a relationship with them.

  4. In the world of paper books, used bookstores are a mixed but generally positive blessing. They do offer a way to find backlist titles by favorite authors, become exposed to new authors at affordable prices, and sometimes stock a broader selection than the best-seller-oriented big box retailers. In the world of eBooks, books don’t go out of print (very often), affordable pricing is already available (at least for many of us) and a huge variety can be found at virtually every retailer. As far as small press is concerned, our books don’t make it to used bookstores often, so there isn’t much help for us there even if the obscurity/poverty argument were to make sense.

    Used books do offer huge margins for retailers (although these are associated with higher storage costs), but in my mind, the advantages to the retailers don’t offset the drawbacks to publishers and authors who get nothing from these sales.

    Reasonable people can disagree on the issue but this is how I see it.

    Rob Preece

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