I’ve just read the piece, ‘The Bookstore’s Last Stand’ in the Business Day section of The New York Times. It struck me that there was a kind of wishful thinking for the ‘good old days’ of print. The article says ‘not many publishers want ebooks to dominate print books'; they may not have a choice. (On the other hand, as has been argued extensively at various publishing conferences, it doesn’t have to be a choice between ebooks and print.)
Yes, the bookstore has been critical for the so-called ‘browsing effect’ of the physical book. This was indeed essential in an industry that existed in print only, and in a world where print was the currency of content. However, that is no longer the case. Now when people ‘browse’, they browse online, and they do this when they are at home or at work or in the park. Online is where publishers need to have visibility. It is online that books will be discovered, whether they be print or digital. Making their content discoverable is where publishers should be focusing their efforts.
However, having said that, readers do still like to see and feel a copy of the physical book, particularly for high-design and non-fiction books. Perhaps this is where libraries can play an increasingly important role. Perhaps publishers should fund libraries and see them as the means of physical discovery. They could have links to local libraries on their websites, or wherever they are selling online.
Publishers could even jointly fund new bookstores based on the library concept. You might need only one display copy in this bookstore. Readers could have the option to rent/buy an ebook/s for download onto an ereader (available for rent or their own) or via an online code. And if they wanted print, there could be same or next day delivery (via local POD) or immediately (via say Espresso Book Machine-type technology).
Wherever books are browsable, whether it be online or at the library/bookstore, if I can have hot chocolate, a comfy chair, and contact with people who like reading, that’s still my kind of home.