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Can publishing survive without its last book superstore?

Barnes & Noble has been all over the news since the holidays. Their eBook sales were down 10 percent, their stock has been down, and they’ve officially announced that they plan to close 200 stores in the next decade.

Grim. But like, Borders grim?

Some say the bookstore is vital to the publishing industry as a showroom, that despite the popularity of eBooks and online shopping, there’s still a large percentage of people who enjoy hitting the pavement, they like to see and touch what they’re buying, they like to browse and disappear for awhile, and in the end, are more likely to buy when submersed in the atmosphere.

But still others are saying as long as eBook popularity continues to rise, bookstores will continue to close. In fact, print sales fell 9% last year. Many digital watchers — including an unnamed publisher quoted in a recent WSJ piece — have predicted that e-books will soon reach 50% of total book sales in the U.S.

Of course B&N doesn’t only sell print books, we’ve all heard of the Nook. And most people who read eBooks also read print books — 88% in fact, according to those Pew talked to for its “The Rise of e-Reading” survey.

But that’s not what B&N says is most important, keeping up with the eBook market. Mitchell Klipper, chief executive of Barnes & Noble’s retail group, defiantly states that, “You go to Barnes & Noble to forget about your everyday issues, to stay awhile and relax,” and insists finding a balance is what the company is focused on.

And what is that balance? Yes, to say you need to embrace convenience and the eBook market while keeping the uniqueness of a walk up store is a lot easier said than done. What are other stores doing?

One interesting store “upgrade” that’s growing in popularity is the concept of Print-On-Demand, on-site. You may think you understand POD, but get this, the Espresso Book Machine is vying for the attention of both authors AND readers.

For authors, the EBM offers instant printing, binding and publishing capabilities with a full color cover, that they claim is indistinguishable from books from a traditional printer, and you can literally walk into your local bookstore and do this, and walk out with copies of your book. Or have them delivered.

For readers, the EBM offers electronic access to current, out of print, hard to find, internationally published titles that you can print out on the spot and read nestled into a cozy chair with your latte on site, or take home with you, less the shipping costs.

For stores, they get to be a friend to the self-published author and they get to provide customers with thousands of hard copy titles without needing the stocking space.

Now, the Espresso Book Machine concept could be to bookstores what Redbox was to Blockbuster, a formidable opponent that will eventually win the convenience war.

But with over 60 machines in stores worldwide, including a number in US universities and well-known locations like Powell’s Books in Portland and Tattered Cover in Denver, it could be just what bookstores need to stay current, while still beating out the Internet in the atmosphere department.

I for one am very curious to see how bookstores continue to adapt, because honestly, I don’t think they’re going anywhere without a good fight. Keep an eye out for upgrades near you!