Bookstores as Literary Outposts in the Digital Age

Virginia Postrel at Bloomberg has an idea for saving bookstores like Barnes and Noble in the digital era:

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. And give the place a good name. How about Serendipity Books? 

This sounds familiar.  

Oh yes! Here’s me in 2011

I would love the idea of a bookstore I could visit, browse their physical library, get ideas, and then have the option of beaming a new book right to my Kindle, with credit for the sale going to the bookseller. Bookstores could be places where one buys dead-tree codices, and where folks top off their e-readers. Why not?

I was thinking mainly of how to help indie bookstores in the midst of Amazon and Barnes and Noble crowding them out, but now even B&N is being shoved aside, thus the piece from Postrel. But the logic holds: Create a space for people to get a sense of the product, let them browse, sample, have some coffee, talk to a learned staff, hold book club meetings, etc. And when it’s time to buy, zap it right into whatever gadget you have on hand. 

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