Reinventing the Bookstore

It’s no secret that the bookstore industry is changing, left to a handful of secondhand hole in the walls and large chains. Many are struggling to remain competitive, with chains turning to the online and e-book business to keep its foot in a growing market. But is this Amazon-led business model the only alternative?

As a book lover, I’ve missed the feeling of browsing through brick and mortar bookstores. One of my best childhood memories is wandering through shelves and shelves of books, picking them up and scanning blurbs, appreciating cover artwork and beautiful type, and being surprised by new discoveries. And then there’s the pleasure of walking home with a brand new book, the excitement of sitting in bed and plunging into a new adventure I had only barely glimpsed. All of these emotions have been dramatically curtailed by the online buying experience.

If bookstore browsing is a valuable experience, would bookworms be willing to pay just for this privilege? What if bookstores became a ‘members only’ or ‘members first’ club, charging a small monthly fee that comes with discounts on purchases?

This is the model being adopted by the cinema industry in Toronto. TIFF charges $99 for a regular individual membership, and a Hot Docs membership is upwards of $39. Both offer discounts for seniors and students, and the option to make donations. To be sure, this is not enough as a primary source of revenue, which comes from screenings and facility rentals. But there might be some lessons here for the publishing industry.

Books have so far been viewed as a product, but there is no reason why it can’t be seen as a service or experience. Add in some smart rebranding and renovation to make facilities hipster cool (e.g. a lounge-like ambience like private social clubs), and the bookstore could become a hip venue for special events. Has anyone tried this before? In any case, my brief online search did not turn up any case studies. Perhaps only a chain could try a gamble like this and benefit on the economies of scale, or perhaps it would only work in wealthy communities like New York and San Francisco.

Beyond the bookstore industry, my frustration with the current middle class consumerist culture is that it’s so preoccupied with products, with little value given to experiences. I do not mean something like travel, but experiences in one’s neighbourhood for example, something you could engage on a regular basis.

What are these experiences? I do not know for I don’t believe they exist yet, or at least I do not yet have the imagination to think them up. What I am trying to say is, instead of shopping for fashionable clothes and collecting things, why don’t we spend more on experiences in our own neighbourhood? Assuming we need to keep our current consumerist market thriving and create jobs (a flawed assumption, but humour me for the sake of this argument), why not pay for experiences instead of more things?

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