Friday, December 23, 2011

Independent Bookstores Are Not Doomed - Here’s how they can fight back against Amazon.

By |Posted Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2011

Best Buy on Black Friday
How can brick-and-mortar stores compete with Amazon?
Photograph by Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images.
I didn’t make a lot of friends in the retail and publishing industries last week when I suggested that independent bookstores were the spawn of Satan. I argued that by making it cheap and easy for people to buy a lot of books, Amazon has been a boon for the book industry and “literary culture” in a way that many bookstores can’t match.
Many defenders of bookstores countered that by focusing on dollars and cents, I’d missed the whole point of these establishments. Bookstores, it turns out, don’t primarily exist to sell books—instead, they’re more like bars for readers. “Bookstores provide a space to meet friends, cruise for a date, and hide out when you have nothing to do on a Saturday night,” Will Doig wrote at Salon. I suspect that many bookstore lovers agree with Doig, which is exactly why many of these shops are going out of business. Bars can survive because alcohol is an extremely profitable good. Books aren’t—so if you think of your favorite bookstore as a comfortable spot to find well-read potential mates rather than as a place for commerce, you’re not helping its owner.
If you want bookstores to stick around, you should root for them to improve the way they sell stuff. Booksellers won’t survive the Amazon onslaught by merely wagging their fingers at the retail giant. Their only hope is to match the commercial innovations Jeff Bezos has brought to shopping. Indeed, this applies to all retailers, not just bookstores. The Internet has revolutionized how we buy stuff, but the main beneficiaries of this revolution have been warehouse companies like Amazon rather than firms that maintain a physical presence in your neighborhood. But it doesn’t have to be this way. This month, Amazon offered customers a discount to purchase stuff online while they were shopping at local establishments. It’s time neighborhood retailers fought Kindle Fire with Kindle Fire. Indeed, tablets and smartphones could be store owners’ best weapons against Jeff Bezos—if only they’d embrace them.
Full story at Slate.

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