How can bookstores thrive in the future?

Can Barnes & Noble survive by rethinking its stores?

Can the e-reader save Barnes & Noble? It helped keep the largest bookstore chain in the United States around while its competitor Borders shut down in 2011. But the e-reader might not continue to be the Barnes & Noble's savior.

The company reported that revenue from the e-book sector of its business fell 25.9 percent to $316 million last quarter. Meanwhile, sales at the company's retail stores, excluding the Nook, were down only 2.2 percent. Despite the interest in digital it might be the physical bookstores that keeps the company from experiencing the same fate as Borders, as Quartz points out. But what can Barnes & Noble and other bookstores do differently to maximize the impact of their brick and mortar bookstores?

The Economist suggests that bookstores -- from the independent variety to major chains -- will need to become cultural destinations.

There are plenty of ways to delight the bookstore customer, but few are easily monetised. The consensus is that bookstores need to become cultural destinations where people are prepared to pay good money to hear a concert, see a film or attend a talk. The programming will have to be intelligent and the space comfortable. Given how common it is for shoppers to browse in shops only to buy online later, some wonder whether it makes sense to charge people for the privilege. Victoria Barnsley, head of HarperCollins, thinks it might be a good idea. She cited similar experiments among clothing retailers to charge customers for trying on merchandise. (Only 35% of fiction in Britain is bought in a physical store, says Ms Barnsley.)

I don't think that last idea -- pay to browse -- would work, but instead drive customers away. But The Economist does offer up other ideas like offering memberships that you might get for a museum, zoo, or other cultural venue. That way members could get access to various events and the store becomes a place that's about more than just books. Another idea is putting self-printing book machines in-store to attract wannabe authors.

That's not to say that retailers should give up on digital content. Barnes & Noble's $316 million revenue from the e-reader business isn't insignificant. But e-readers are struggling to compete with multi-purpose tablets . So instead of competing with tech companies on e-readers, it might be best to reimagine its most abundant asset--its physical stores.

The future of the bookstore: a real cliffhanger [The Economist]

Photo: Flickr/Michael D. Dunn

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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