One of life’s small joys is, I think, wandering the shelves of a good independent bookstore. If you feel the same way, visit these bookshelves often. Carefully form memories of each visit. Many of those wonderful shelves might disappear in years ahead.
To understand why, one does well to begin with the traditional model for publishing, say, a suspense novel. The life of a typical novel is short. A small mountain of paper book inventory gets printed up, gets laboriously transported to bookstore shelves, and there becomes obsolete in about two or three weeks.
Whatever is not sold in the two or three weeks ends up destroyed by somebody. Many novels unsold after their two or three weeks of actively promoted shelf life simply get destroyed right away. Some unsold books get a second chance in deep-discount book liquidation stores, and then they, too, get destroyed.
Selling paper books the traditional way is a wasteful, expensive process. Roughly a third of each paper book’s retail price might go to middlemen who do little more than lug books from warehouses to bookstore shelves to destruction. Get rid of the book luggers and books could be much less expensive.
That happened, of course, when Amazon books introduced its Kindle ebooks. The 30 percent of retail price lost to book luggers became a savings passed along to Amazon’s Kindle ebook customers. Also, since paper, printing, and binding were unnecessary, Kindle ebooks offered even further savings.
Now there are other ebook sources besides Amazon’s Kindle store. Not only that, but ebooks seem ever more popular with readers. Ever more ebook distribution means ever fewer bookshelves — which gets us back to those wonderful bookshelves in independent bookstores.
How does an independent bookstore owner cope with more ebooks? The stores selling Christian books made an initial transition years ago, becoming more like Christian gift shops than Christian bookstores. Some such stores also added church supplies and homeschooling materials. Revenue streams, in other words, were diversified.
Independent bookstores sometimes have also set up their own online bookstores selling many of the books — in either ebook or paper format — sold by Amazon books.
Some independent bookstores no doubt have added coffee. Personal attention and insightful book recommendations might have received renewed emphasis. But then what? The Kindle ebook juggernaut still has momentum.
From the independent bookstore’s point of view, there might be more than one viable solution to the challenges of Amazon books and Amazon’s Kindle store. Here I describe only one possibility: in-store book printing with something like the Espresso Book Machine®. In other words, I mention now the approach already offered by On Demand Books.
What is an Espresso Book Machine®? You can find out in detail at the On Demand Books Web site. For present purposes, think of this machine as a hefty photocopier that produces paperback books one at a time from an electronic file.
Since I have not yet seen a bookstore adopt the On Demand Books approach, I can only imagine how shopping in such a store might go. A customer might browse book reviews on one of the computer screens around the store, choose a book, and electronically place an order. Then, while the customer might finish his or her gourmet coffee drink, the Expresso machine in the store’s back room would manufacture the book.
Minutes later the customer could pay for the book and leave the store. Notice that the customer could get the book almost right away rather than waiting two days for Amazon Prime.
Until Amazon sets up its own chain of Espresso machine bookshops — or puts its machines in somebody else’s chain of stores — the On Demand Book model looks like a way independent bookstores could hold their own against the Kindle ebook juggernaut.
Alas, there seems no place for bookshelves in this new Espresso Book Machine® model. Perhaps such a store would have one bookshelf with sample books or promotional copies. There would not be a store full of bookshelves, though.
So, visit your local bookstore. Wander the shelves. Form your set of lasting memories.