Yesterday, I talked about how I thought a bookstore like Barnes & Noble might survive. How the retail model seems busted to some extent.
I fear my solutions to the problem seemed vague. I thought I’d fix that.
I think we need to remember that books are not stories, and vice versa. That reading is as much about the experience as the object being sold, and as such, retail publishing must change to meet new needs of the market.
The market needs a few things, based on what is changing. The biggest change is the proliferation of digital in an almost completely analog environment, but that provides both challenges and opportunities.
As I see it, what the market really needs is simple:
We need a digital media player well-suited to reading.
We need content to read on said digital media player.
We need the opportunity to purchase analog when we seek that product.
With those three needs, I think what we’re going to see is a further divide in retail publishing. Because it would make sense if big-box retail outlets, like Barnes & Noble, Borders, and Target chose to focus almost exclusively on the media players/content, while indie bookstores chose to fulfill the needs of the analog niche.
It makes sense, in a way. Why do we go to indie bookstores? Because they’re small and privately owned and awesome, maintained by proprietors we probably know by name and staffed by people we’ve seen smile. You’ve got to love books to actually own a bookshop, just like you have to love books to go to one nowadays. Like I said, I go to B&N for the author events, free wi-fi, and coffee, not for the books. For books, I go to the Strand or Amazon.
Perhaps the solution is simple: places like chains replace their “book sections” (which are usually all Twilight, James Patterson, Maeve Binchy, and Glenn Beck anyway) with book kiosks, or at least with limited shelving and POD machines. Books aren’t like other media: retailers usually sell CDs and DVDs as so-called “loss leaders” to get customers to buy more expensive fare like the players those media require.
Which is why it makes sense to consider the retail industry as two separate components. Indie bookstores are more like the hip record shops where DJs and enthusiasts shop the vinyl.
Thing is, it seems like every day another bigtime retailer is announcing its woes. (With Barnes & Noble considering selling itself, why would anyone buy a nook? I’d be scared it’ll go obsolete in a year. But then again, what electronics don’t?). What’s a big retailer to do?
Which got me to thinking: if I were Borders (which is the other big book retailer, and whom I’ve read as having woes, just not this week), what would I do? How would I save myself?
First, I’d partner with a hardware manufacturer. I’d call Sony or Acer, probably. Or Samsung, perhaps. And I’d say, look, I need the best e-ink display you’ve got. I want people to look at it and think it’s a page. I want a well-designed device people will want to use. Capacitive controls? I’m not sure. But I want a device with a cross between the functionalities of the iPad and the Kindle. A device equally adept at just about anything. I want my customers to be able to do two three major things on it: read books, browse the Internet, and listen to music.
Second, I’d go to Google and say, okay, I want Android. Stock Android I can update the moment you do. In addition, I want an Android reading app as good as Kindle and the iBookstore. We’ll put Google on our devices if you back our e-reading app.
I’d call it the Borders Portal. It’d be roughly Kindle/iPad-ish. It would have a nicer, more versatile screen than the Kindle, but you’d be able to view it outside easily.
And the Borders Portal would come with two stores: Borders Within and Borders Without.
Borders Within would let the Portal access a local-area network in all retail locations, giving the device instant streaming access to every book and all music available for download/purchase. When in a Borders store, basically, the Portal can play/display anything.
Borders Without is the store outside. Borders in your pocket.
Finally, I’d partner with T-Mobile to, in effect, make the Portal a 3G HSPA+ mobile hotspot.
With tethering. And unlimited data at $30 per month.
I don’t think I’d be able to keep the thing in stock, personally. I’d want one, I know that.