Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The future of bookstores ...

... or, Do Bookstores Have a Future? (Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

I rarely stop into bookstores myself. Would I, if I didn't have a roomful of the latest books just a few feet from where I sit? Maybe. Though I would be more likely to visit Joseph Fox Books than Borders or B&N. I like the cozy atmosphere more. The fact is, though, when I need a book, I usually just buy it online. On the other hand, I'm always up for browsing in a good second-hand bookstore.


  1. Interesting question. Since August, I've toiled in one of the big-box stores you mention - one in midtown Manhattan, and one upstate. I don't think that these bookstores are going anywhere. I do however think that they're going to try and pull off the strange feat of growing in size and sales while reducing the variety of what's offered. I work in the music dept., but I can judge the place as a whole. My own store is reducing both the quantity and variety of music titles - especially in the "World" genre - and in many sections doesn't consider the alphabet to be a viable organizational system. Rare and happy is the day when you're able to find a title on the shelf.

    There's no problem, however, finding your chosen cultural touchstones: your "Da Vinci Code" books and assorted tie-ins, your "High School Musical." The trend, from where I am on the ground, is this de-emphasis on real variety - this de-emphasis of being a repository for as many books and albums as possible - and an increasing concentration on the cash cows.

    It's this kind of neutron star effect, if you will: the store's growing denser, making more money from selling more quantity of fewer titles... a gravitational collapse (i.e. of variety) and an increase in force (i.e. profitability). Perhaps I should have said black hole instead.

    This phenomenon is more readily seen in the upstate locale than in Manhattan. Which I think obtains & makes sense. But I'll still venture to say that this process is pretty widespread.

  2. Thanks, Wil, for a very interesting and informative comment. Glenn Reynolds, in An Army of Davids, suggests they're becoming the 21st-century equivalent of the 18th-century London coffee houses.

  3. >> I'm always up for browsing in a good second-hand bookstore.<<

    If you ever make it to the Phoenix - Tucson - Flagstaff area, Bookman's is a must see. It's one of the things I miss most now that I've relocated to PA - aside from the weather, that is.