Last Friday, I was listening to You & Yours, BBC Radio 4’s consumer affairs program, and heard the CEO of HarperCollins say something that stuck with me all weekend.
“Only 35% of fiction in the UK is bought through a physical bookshop…I don’t want to take the bookshop away. I desperately want to keep it. But I think the question is, will they be able to sustain themselves?…In America, certain shoe shops are charging to try on shoes because people are just going in, trying them on and then ordering them online. I think the idea of a bookshop becoming a book club is not that insane.”
Victoria Barnsley, CEO of HarperCollins UK and International
You can listen to the discussion on Radio 4’s website (it starts at 21 min 05 seconds).
My first reaction was to wonder which shoe shops in the U.S. charge people to try on shoes. Fortunately not the ones I’ve ever been to because I find shoes impossible to shop for.
My second reaction was fear, which seems to be my default mode when I think about the possibility of bookshops disappearing. I say that even though I rarely buy things from bookshops any more – but the main reason for that is because I live in a country where the English-language selection is small.
When I visit bookshops in the U.K. and U.S., I’m so excited to be surrounded by books that I inevitably walk out with my arms full and my credit card smoking. But I also completely understand people who browse in bookstores and then buy wherever they find the best deal – which will often be online.
The radio program interviews some booksellers and also talks about how some bookstores have found ways to encourage people to stick around and relax with a book before they’ve bought it, for example, by including a cafe or comfy chairs. Apparently one of the motivations is to get people to stay long enough that they feel guilty about leaving without buying something. I wonder if it’s also because they want you to get so hooked by a book that you won’t want to wait for it to be shipped from an internet retailer, since most of these changes to bookstores came before the e-book revolution.
There’s something so wonderful about browsing in bookstores, and I know there are a lot of clever people trying to figure out how to keep them in business. What do you think would work?
Would Victoria Barnsley’s comment about turning them into book clubs work? Would you pay a monthly membership fee to go to a bookstore, the way stores like Costco and Sam’s Club make you do? Those two stores let you buy in bulk and get reduced prices, so what would you need from a bookstore in order to pay for a membership?
If a membership wouldn’t work for you, would you pay a small fee (like $2) to enter a bookstore if it was returned to you when you bought something – sort of like paying for parking unless you get your ticket validated?
Or does the idea of paying to browse seem completely wrong to you? Do you have any other ideas that bookstores could try in order to stay in business?