What Does The Future Of The Bookstore Look Like?

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The Wisconsin-based bookstore chain Book World announced last week the closure of all 45 of its stores, including 20 in Wisconsin, citing a shift towards online shopping and e-commerce. Elsewhere, the nation’s largest bookstore chain, Barnes & Noble, is struggling. This hour, we look at the challenges faced by bookstores in today’s economy, and how these stores are trying to keep their doors open for the foreseeable future.

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  • Selling Books In The Age Of Amazon

    Wisconsin-based bookstore Book World announced last week it will close all 45 of its locations throughout Wisconsin and the upper Midwest due to insufficient sales caused by the rise of e-commerce.

    The company started liquidation sales in all of its stores last week and will close stores when all the inventory is gone, likely in early 2018, according to the company’s website.

    While online shopping is certainly a concern for any brick-and-mortar store, it’s just one of many challenges for bookstores trying to succeed, said Michael Cader, the founder of Publishers Lunch, a website and newsletter covering the bookselling industry.

    “What we’re seeing industry-wide is sort of a reinvention of the idea of what a bookseller and what a local bookseller can be,” Cader told WPR’s “The Morning Show.”

    In order to succeed, contemporary brick-and-mortar bookstores have to ask themselves, “Why do we exist?” and have a concrete answer. For many bookstores, particularly local and independent stores, the answer is the bookstore has to be about more than just selling books, Cader said.

    Today’s thriving bookstores serve a purpose beyond commerce, whether it’s holding book clubs, offering writing classes or bringing in authors and speakers. They’re essentially community centers for people who love to read, Cader said.

    “If you’re just selling books, it’s pretty hard, because everybody thinks they can get whatever book they want if they’re willing to wait 24, 48, 72 hours for it to arrive,” he said. “(Successful bookstores) are giving people who are interested in ideas and literature and culture a place to gather.”

    Today’s thriving bookstores also tend to be less concerned with having every book imaginable available in the store — you can get that from Amazon.com — and more about having a curated selection, Cader said. That’s a big shift from the thinking just a few decades ago that it was essential to have a wide selection available, the superstore concept that brought about Borders and Barnes & Noble.

    “Now it is more about the owner’s personality. It’s about the curation: which books are in the store, how they are servicing you by helping you pick books from the great sea that’s available,” he said.

    With changes in philosophy have come changes in business models.

    Many local bookstores today are operating more like nonprofits or farm share programs than traditional retail outlets as a way to become more embedded in their communities, Cader said. They’re turning to online crowdsourced funding, community loans, membership programs and other methods to encourage community members to invest in their local bookstore.

    Booksellers “are finding ways that they can find the sort of literary patrons in the community and bring them into the mechanism of establishing the store, and getting them to embrace the idea that the store is their store,” he said.

    More people are opening smaller bookstores, and stores with membership in the National Booksellers Association has been increasing after dropping sharply when e-books were first introduced, Cader said.

    According to the American Booksellers Association, independent stores are thriving across the country.

    Meanwhile, Barnes & Noble continues to lag behind Amazon. The retailer is trying to find the way to a new sustainable model, Cader said.

Episode Credits

  • Kate Archer Kent Host
  • Chris Malina Producer
  • Michael Cader Guest