Last week, I was chatting with a client who was visiting from out of town and who I hadn’t seen for a while. We talked about all of the changes in publishing, especially in the area of electronic publishing, that had occurred since we had last seen each other.
One of the things he asked, and which I thought was a very interesting question, was what will happen to the brick and mortar bookstores now that electronic books are gaining such a foothold, to say nothing about the increased market share that Amazon and the other on-line booksellers have. What will this mean for the large chains – Barnes & Noble and, especially, Borders.
Then on Friday, the 21st, there was a piece on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, “E-Books Rewrite Bookselling,” discussing just this topic.
And Mike Shatzkin, industry pundit, estimates that by the end of 2012, digital books will be 20%-25% of unit sales with another 25% of books sold online. That’s 50% of all books sold and it would seem to me that losing that volume of business will cause the large chains, at least, to shutter a significant number of stores.
The only way I can imagine they could survive is by carrying an even greater variety of products other than books than they already do. And, because these changes are happening so quickly, they would have to begin carrying this additional merchandise immediately so as to build up customers before their book business deteriorates any further.
I think the independent stores that are left—after the chains took over a huge part of the market and put many of them out of business years ago—will be less affected and, in fact, could thrive. For them, selling more varied merchandise will be less of a “leap” than their much larger, more corporate cousins and their customers are truly the most loyal of book lovers. How ironic, considering what happened to the bulk of the independent booksellers when the chains descended over a decade ago.
I am still convinced that electronic book publishing will increase readership as opposed to destroying it. It is up to the big retailers to figure out how to keep up with this new world in order to stay in business.
What do you think? Will the chain bookstores survive and if so, how?