Big booker Borders filed their own Chapter 11 last week, after users just hung out, bought cheap coffee instead of books, read magazines and generally chilled out. Where'd they learn that a place with books is the place to do that?
At their free library of course. All the media there is free (well, a little responsibility is required) and many libraries have been ramping up their new releases, their video sections, and music sections before that media took a dive 10 years ago.
Because of these (mostly) free institutions that we've come to assume as an American right, the American public is used to a big place with books being a hangout where a small amount of money is exchanged (nickels, dimes and quarters for those small fees…).
Sure Borders and B&N and BAM! are great for big & glossy coffeetable books and for guides with detailed maps of Sao Paulo but for trying out a new literary author? To catch up on the first three books of a mystery series? Smart readers head to the library every time.
It's the American way. As kids we went into the school library to sit in silly beanbag chairs and peruse some books or to navigate games on the computer or to read magazines. If a big bookstore does the same way, why would society treat it any differently?
It's true, libraries are becoming more for the socially neglected, maybe they've always been this way — those weird homeless men falling asleep, the lonely after-school kids, the not-so-lonely PSP playing kids whose parents can't afford or can't find another babysitter…librarians are at the front end of social work.
As the already small publishing dollar is getting shrunk more and more, I think bookstores will have to start looking at libraries as enemies. Publishers secretly complain about the industry, while knowing that libraries guarantee huge sales. But really the publishers don't care how they get money, as long as they get some — rather it come from bookstores, Amazon or a university.
Maybe bookstores could do it better, offering some memberships ($10 a month, $25 a month?) and get the freshest books the library doesn't have…I don't know still seems like a longshot. At least get on the ebook bandwagon (Google Books!) before libraries begin investing more in that technology. I can already check out a few books from the library on my iPod and they're adding more titles all the time. Differentiating content is what bookstores will have to do as long as the library gets money from the all mighty tax teat.
Heavy research will never be the strong suit of bookstores, but providing entertainment, the most contemporary materials along with a good experience is an area bookstores should be able to grab back.
Wait, I forgot—Blockbuster and Hollywood Video are also experiencing a slow death–they were essentially privately-held libraries.
Never mind, bookstores are screwed. And they can't blame capitalism, just their tax money.
More on this library / bookstore thing:
At The INTERN.
At Two Pot Screamer with a quote from someone named “Sherman Dyslexie”