The pace of change in bookselling is so rapid that it's easy to become unreasonably nostalgic for the old days, however flawed they may have been.
So, in a New Year's bid for optimism, I have imagined the bookshop of the future. The first thing I notice on entering Amottastone's in 10 years' time is the beauty of the books. They are made to be treasured, and to last. Production values are superb. Jacket design is stunning--the quality of paper and binding indicates that these are books for keeps. But there are fewer shelves than we'd expect in today's bookshop, and the prices are rather higher than those we pay now.
All around the shop there are 'advice stations' where readers talk to highly qualified reading assistants who have records of each customer's buying history and interests. Other customers are online, consulting virtual assistants with more specialised queries, or talking to authors who are virtually present at certain times of day. Some customers are accessing research notes, images, music tracks or other background material that relates to the title they want to buy. As well as virtual events, the bookshop runs many high quality live events, from reading groups for all ages and interests to creative writing sessions. There's a club room offering philosophy, mind gym, Su Doku, chess, literary quiz and research groups, as well as children's reading clubs and regular meetings for fans of crime writing, manga, fantasy or science fiction. Customers are in the habit of spending a relaxed afternoon or evening here in the bookshop, in the same way as they might spend time in a health club. A cultivated mind is as fashionable as a honed body.
But where is the profit coming from? Look closely. Many of these customers have a membership card. There are different levels of membership: a premium subscription permits a customer to attend all events, participate in all groups, and access member-only areas on the bookshop's website. Such areas offer, for example, exclusive author interviews or pre-publication tasters. Other members hold parent and child, student, or daytime-only subscriptions.
Some customers are buying downloads for their e-readers or creating a new playlist for a forthcoming holiday, while others choose what are known as 'Collection Books'. Everybody has an e-reader now, but many still want the books they love on their shelves. Cheap paperbacks and three for twos have disappeared, but the market for the durable, desirable book is strong.
The bookshop of the future, in short, is doing fine.
From The Bookseller