E-reader Guilt

A Perfect Storm: Save St. Mark’s Bookshop!

Yea, it's true, I like this bookstore a lot. But I don't go that often. I don't go not just because I have a Kindle though. I think the e-reader/print dispute is a black/white fallacy. It's a lot more complicated why a bookstore might be threatened.

The primary reason, beyond all others, is the decline in interest among most people in reading. Seeing someone interact with a book on the Subway is a rare thing these days, even rarer than when I first moved to New York City in 2007.

Secondly, local bookstores have to compete against online retailers. Let's face it: Searching ABE, Amazon, or Barnes & Noble is direct, fast, easy, and you can do it on your lunch break. Most of the time you get free shipping, and it only takes a day or two. And you don't have to go anywhere. Price of gas and lack of spare time also assault the bookstore. (You will notice in the article the bookstore owner is making a similar argument, while the article author wants to push the cause to the increase of e-book readers).

It is true that e-book sales are outpacing print right now. This is true. But if we look to what is being consumed on e-readers versus what people buy in print, a strategy might emerge for smaller bookstores to save themselves. It should focus around the idea that some books are easier and better in tree-flesh format. Poetry comes to mind immediately, as do reference books, and non fiction works with footnotes (footnotes on the Kindle are really annoying).

The big coup would be for someone to figure out how to monetize browsing. There's no electronic substitute for shelf discovery. How to turn that into profit is the question that should be on the minds of all small bookstore owners, large bookstore owners, and advertising executives. Solve that one, you save the bookstore.

Another possibility would be an ad campaign that shows the social character of print books. Cut to: Someone trying to share a novel on their e-reader with someone else. Cut to: Someone taking an old paperback off a shelf and handing it to a friend with a smile. Cut to: Someone trying to show a passage from a book on an e-reader with someone (very clumsy of course). Cut to: A couple lovingly looking at the same page, marked with two or three colors of ink.

These solutions could just be stop-gap. The big, looming problem is how to kick start reading books again. And not just books that are televised media in transliterated form (Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, etc). That should perhaps be the central question.