Villing & Company

Dewey Decimal's Digital Destiny: The Fate of Brick and Mortar Bookstores

A few years back, libraries and bookstores might have seemed immune to the digital revolution, but with the recent ubiquity of handheld devices such as smart phones, iPads and digital readers like the Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook, I’m wondering if they too will eventually be no more. At the very least, I think we can admit that the bookstores and libraries of the future will be vastly different than what they are now. Printed publications need to be prepared for a major overhaul.

My wife and I recently visited Chicago on the day after Thanksgiving to celebrate our anniversary. Needless to say, downtown on Black Friday was just as you might imagine. Nudging our way in and out of shops along the Magnificent Mile, the tide of crowds eventually brought us upon a surprising site. The Borders on North Michigan was closing its doors. For good.

The closing of massive flagship retail locations combined with the steady decline of profit margins doesn’t seem like wonderful news for the mega bookstores. There seems to be a boney Ghost-of-Christmas-Future finger pointing in one familiar direction. Libraries may not be far behind. But, unlike the death of the video store, the eventual doom of physical bookstores and libraries is a more complex issue.

Here’s the catch if you can’t guess it already: books are being sold in record numbers. While printed book sales are on the decline, e-book sales are very much on the rise. Christmas Day of 2009 marked the first time that e-book sales actually surpassed printed book sales. By Christmas of 2010, the third generation Kindle had become the best-selling product of all time on Amazon.com, surpassing the previous champion: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It’s no wonder that while other retailers are gradually boarding up their windows, Barnes and Noble has dedicated a large portion of its floor space to showing off their fancy Nook e-reader. Combine this with the reality that books are expensive to print! To me, it seems that if these companies play their cards right, their future could be very bright indeed.

Amazon recently announced that their current line of Kindles will soon be capable of e-book lending. So if your buddy owns an e-book you want to read, they can loan it to you digitally for a few weeks until you have to return it. You don’t have to think too hard about what this will mean for the future of libraries. As a recent owner of my first Kindle, I'm really starting to get what all the fuss is about. The ability to personally customize font type and size as well as the ability to surf the web (free 3G by the way) is hard for the leather-bound tome to compete with.

For marketers, this trend is huge to say the least. We are gradually moving towards being a paperless society. The cost savings is massive, but the need to adapt to the new technology is even more important. As devices bully their way into the printed publication realm, our need to be aware and capable of how to best use this technology has never been greater.

Filed Under: general

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