Of the 200 Borders stores across the company that are closing, I’ve done signings in half a dozen. That makes the chain's bankruptcy just a little more personal. I recently spoke to the proprietor of a large independent bookstore near where I live in Palo Alto. I suggested that there was some consolation -- at least Borders’ problems would be good for his store. He disabused me of that notion, saying that after getting stiffed for tens of millions of dollars by Borders, publishers are tightening up on credit with his store and other independents. He doesn’t need another problem given the threat posed by e-books to his book-and-mortar store.
So is there any future at all for the independent bookstore? Today, the independents, along with Borders and Barnes & Noble, are becoming less booksellers and more book showrooms. People wander through these brick-and-mortar stores, look around, and then go home to buy print-and-ink copies of their choices from Amazon or, alternatively, they buy downloads from Amazon or another e-book retailer. This is no secret. Booksellers at brick-and-mortar stores tell me looky-loos in their store shamelessly admit they are looking to find a good book so they can go home and purchase it over the Web. But here’s the critical point: these looky-loos prefer seeing books on shelves and talking to booksellers who know their stuff as compared to trolling through websites to look for a book to read. The problem with their preference, of course, is that there will be no book-and-mortar stores to shop at if people just come to bookstore to look without buying.
And guess what? Most of those devices have GPS software built in. That means Google eBooks or other e-book suppliers will know exactly what bookstore the purchaser is standing in and can pay a commission to the store. This way the store is compensated for acting as a showroom staffed with bibliophiles. By the way, with this approach, a user of Barnes & Noble’s Nook e-reader can just point it at a book on the shelf at a B&N and have the book ready to read, too. The model doesn’t work for the leading e-reader, Amazon’s Kindle, because Amazon doesn’t want you buying a book or e-book from anybody but them. On the other hand, a model where readers can download an e-book instantly while holding the print-and-ink version in their hands will begin to give Amazon a run for its money.
So, here’s the future. You'll go to your independent bookstore and point and click. Poof. An e-book is on your reading device even before you leave the store. Instant gratification. Rumor has it that the American Booksellers Association is working to make this all a reality. I can’t wait.