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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Booksellers' Evolving Strategies


Picture this: You're walking down the aisles of a bookstore looking at the vast shelves of books, stopping to pull one of interest down for a closer look, touching it, smelling the newness of it, flipping the pages and reading sections, holding it in your hands...Ahhh, you decide, this is the one I want...


Are these simple moves and stimulating teasers to your senses blowing away, soon to be Gone With The Wind ?


Julie Bosman of the New York Times writes an incisive piece examining the rapidly changing atmosphere of bookstores and booksellers' changing strategies to stay in business:


In the movie “You’ve Got Mail,” Tom Hanks played the aggressive big-box retailer Joe Fox driving the little bookshop owner played by Meg Ryan out of business.

Twelve years later, it may be Joe Fox’s turn to worry. Readers have gone from skipping small bookstores to wondering if they need bookstores at all. More people are ordering books online or plucking them from the best-seller bin at Wal-Mart.

But the threat that has the industry and some readers the most rattled is the growth of e-books. In the first five months of 2009, e-books made up 2.9 percent of trade book sales. In the same period in 2010, sales of e-books, which generally cost less than hardcover books, grew to 8.5 percent, according to the Association of American Publishers, spurred by sales of the Amazon Kindle and the new Apple iPad. For Barnes & Noble, long the largest and most powerful bookstore chain in the country, the new competition has led to declining profits and store traffic. After the company announced last week that it was putting itself up for sale, Leonard Riggio, Barnes & Noble’s chairman and largest shareholder, who has declared his confidence in the company’s future, hinted that he might make a play to buy the company himself and take it private.

For readers, e-books have meant a transformation not just of the reading experience, but of the book-buying tradition of strolling aisles, perusing covers and being able to hold books in their hands. Many publishers have been astounded by the pace of the e-book popularity and the threat to print book sales that it represents. If the number of brick-and-mortar stores drops, publishers fear that sales will go along with it. Some worry that large bookstores will go the way of the record stores that shut down when the music business went digital.

“The shift from the physical to the digital book can pick up some of the economic slack, but it can’t pick up the loss that is created when you don’t have the customers browsing the displays,” said Laurence J. Kirshbaum, a literary agent. “We need people going into stores and seeing a book they didn’t know existed and buying it.”

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