3 takes on why bookstores are dead (and why that might not be such a bad thing)

Bookstore Front

Bookstores had a really bad week — at least in the world of blog punditry, where three industry figures I admire posted their takes on why bookstores as we know them are doomed. Seth Godin, in fact, goes further and says that books are dead too. Here’s a little reading for you:

The death of bookstores is a bigger problem for print books than ebooks

In a post titled “An industry pining for bookstores” over at the Scholarly Kitchen, management consultant Joseph Esposito writes, “With bookstores collapsing everywhere, the print business collapses along with it.” As bookstores close, Esposito argues, readers have fewer places to discover print books. Instead, he says, they learn about titles online — through Twitter, Goodreads, or Amazon pages. When it comes time to order the book, they have two options: A cheaper digital version or a more expensive print version. “Why pay for print when you can get the digital edition immediately at a lower price?  The advantage of the physical bookstore — the immediate availability of inventory — is not at play here.”

Thus people migrate to ebooks even if they don’t prefer them, Esposito argues:

“Many people may actually prefer print to digital. The problem is that the collapse of the print distribution network is driving the business to digital despite what individual consumers want.  In other words, the switch from print to digital is an emergent property of the changing ecosystem, not a matter of consumer preference.”

Read his post here.

The death of bookstores is a bigger problem for publishers than readers

Book publishing industry consultant Mike Shatzkin picks up on Esposito’s chain of thought in post titled, “Losing bookstores is a much bigger problem for publishers than it is for readers.” “The obsession with the false dichotomy between printed books and digital ones,” Shatzkin writes, “is beginning to give way to attention for the more important shift taking place between purchasing books online and purchasing books in stores.”

And that’s a problem for publishers: “The single biggest reason (aside from a fat advance payment, which few get) for authors to work through a publisher is to get the distribution of printed copies to many stores.” So as more sales are made online, Shatzkin writes, publishers face “an increasingly hostile environment” where they either have to change the types of books they publish — because the vast majority of ebooks sales are narrative, text-based titles — or find a new business model.

Uh-oh, are books dead too?

Author and thinker Seth Godin has two good posts this week. First, at the blog for The Domino Project — his former publishing imprint with Amazon, which as of 2011 is not publishing new titles — Godin writes, “If you love books, it’s hard to see Amazon as a villain. More books sold to more people for more reasons than any other retailer in history. More cross-selling, hand-selling and up-selling too. The web pages of Amazon, on average, are better informed than many bookstore clerks…But if you love bookstores, Amazon is the final nail.” He offers a solution:

“Great independent bookstores deserve to thrive, and I hope they will. But they won’t thrive as local substitutes for Amazon. They will make it if they become hubs, connectors and gift shops…More important, though, is the idea of a local place where smart people go to meet each other and the ideas they care about. We shouldn’t have that because it’s the last chance of the local bookstore, we should have that because it’s worth doing.”

In a separate post at his own blog, Godin writes that books in print are dying fast. “No, books won’t be completely eliminated, just as vinyl records are still around (a new vinyl store is opening in my little town). But please don’t hold your breath for any element of the treasured ecosystem to return in force.”

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