Monday, September 06, 2010

The Future of Bookstores: Lead-gen, not Dead Trees

The Borders at 3rd and Townsend in San Francisco is closing. I've spent many hours at this bookstore browsing books and magazines, hanging out with my laptop in the cafe, or chatting with the many startup people that would hang out here as well.

Except, of course, I didn't buy a lot of books.

My go-to place for books has been Amazon. And more recently, I've been buying most books on my iPad in iBooks or the Kindle app. My bookshelf at home is full - why buy more physical books if I can have all my books in my hand?

This the problem confronting bookstores and music shops today: People come for the experience of browsing and socializing. Yet Borders and Barnes and Noble can only charge for books and coffee. Even the high margins on foamed milk and espresso can't make up for the costs of stocking 200,000 titles, and trucking them around the country. At the same time, consumers are moving to consume digital media instead of piling on more dead trees at home.

Here's my radical proposal.

Get rid of the physical books and CDs. Only sell goods with 90% margins: Lattes and greeting cards. Rent smaller spaces but build them with beautiful architecture and interior design, comfortable couches, display advertising for the latest digital content, and beautiful, high-resolution e-readers that will let users browse any book in the world, and headphones to listen to any song on the planet. Invite local authors for frequent readings that will let them interact with the audience and the audience interact with them. Staff the store with fewer, but more knowledgeable staff who can recommend books and music, and help people use the fancy electronics.

Want to finish reading a book at home? Swipe your card through the reader and it will be instantly available on your Android phone, your iPad, and your computer. The bookstore takes a cut.

Stepping into a bookstore is an emotional experience: You feel ready to browse and discover. Here's way to create that feeling without stocking dead trees and having to rent real estate measured in city blocks.