Book-Buying In 3D

Virginia Postrel argues that bookstores like Barnes & Noble can be saved:

Separate the discovery and atmospheric value of bookstores from the book-warehousing function. Make them smaller, with the inventory limited to curated examination copies — one copy per title. (Publishers should be willing to supply such copies free, just as they do for potential reviewers.) Charge for daily, monthly or annual memberships that entitle customers to hang out, browse the shelves, buy snacks and use the Wi-Fi. Give members an easy way to order books online, whether from a retail site or the publishers directly, without feeling guilty.

Peter Osnos agrees that “bookstores are for browsing”:

[T]hey should also be showrooms in which the selection on hand is backed up by the vast catalog and data bases of books that can be ordered. No customer should ever leave a store having asked for a book that can be located somewhere without closing the sale. I once saw a relevant sign in a hotel in Egypt of all places that today’s booksellers should adopt: “The answer is yes; there is no other answer.”

Looking at market trends, James Surowiecki sees optimism for print-lovers:

Of course, a lot of people [find that] physical books are “technologically obsolete,” and the book industry is heading down the path that the music industry took, where digital downloads decimated CD sales and put record stores out of business. It’s true that, between 2009 and 2011, e-book sales rose at triple-digit annual rates. But last year, according to industry trade groups, e-book sales rose just forty-four per cent. (They currently account for about a fifth of the total market.) This kind of deceleration in the growth rate isn’t what you’d expect if e-books were going to replace printed books anytime soon. In a recent survey by the Codex Group, ninety-seven per cent of people who read e-books said that they were still wedded to print, and only three per cent of frequent book buyers read only digital.

He finds that print books are here to stay for good reason:

The truth is that the book is an exceptionally good piece of technology—easy to read, portable, durable, and inexpensive.

Previous Dish on digital reading here, here, and here.