Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Future Thoughts (Part 1)

Six months into the online bookstore experiment, a couple of ideas are starting to manifest. The first and most obvious is that the small, independent bookstore is doomed to extinction.

But let's be very precise here. When I speak of indie bookstores, I'm talking about actual storefronts that sell only books, of the sort I used to love to haunt. You know, the old curiosity shop sorts of places, with little more than stacks of books piled high to the ceiling, perhaps a few cats on the loose, and a kindly and bookish person behind the counter who was most likely the owner — and who, if asked, knew exactly where that 1952 copy of The Mountains of Allah could be found. I used to love to wander into those kinds of shops, just to browse. You could never tell what you were going to find, and I always wound up finding something I couldn't live without.

But, so sorry. Merchantile dodo. Doomed to extinction. It's the 21st century now, and not only are there no longer enough customers left with the time and patience necessary to keep such shops alive, the only places left where such shops can afford to remain located are urban combat zones, and the kindly and bookish owners are most likely sitting behind sheets of bulletproof glass, quivering in terror every time a new face walks in the door and praying for some developer to tear down the building so that they'll have an excuse for a going-out-of-business sale.

But (three buts here, too many for a short piece) this is not to say that the future of bookselling is all Amazon / Borders / Barnes & WalMart. Those indies that figure out how to make a profitable transition to the razor-thin margin world of online selling will survive, as will those that figure out that what they're really selling is literary atmosphere. So if you want to save the storefront, what you have to do is:

a.) Get rid of 3/4ths of your book inventory. Keep only a short list of vintage literary and how-to-write titles conspicuously on display.

b.) Get a lot of comfy chairs and a prop chess set or two.

c.) Become a wi-fi hotspot.

d.) Get a food license, and start selling upscale coffee, tea, and designer bakery (i.e., scones).

Your thoughts? Anything I've missed?