Monday, August 27, 2007

Bookstores Not Obsolete, Just Repurposed for Social Media

Repurposing the local bookstore...Scott Karp bemoans the local bookstore's slow descent into obsolescence but it seems more to me that Scott simply doesn't see that most people don't use the bookstore to buy stuff like Dave Weinberger's new book. Rather, bookstores--from small locals to big chains--are doing things to make their space social. Look around at the folks sitting in the cafe. Cafes are great places to meet friends or have first dates (they're quite safe.) Many bookstores also have book signings, discussions with the authors, host book groups, knitting circles, poetry readings--lots of social stuff.

Get it--SOCIAL. As in real social, f2f, not virtual through IM, Twitter, Facebook, etc....

But nobody in Scott's comments seemed to mention these factors (except maybe me)...considering the commenters were mostly men who spend a lot of time in front of their computers (sorry to the guys there who I actually like), and are married, I'm not surprised to see them neglect the simple social things that are going around them in the local bookstores...

Takes a woman to know this stuff. Many of us value both the Social and the Media--and in ways that many Web 2.0 dudes just might not understand. :-)

another note on why chain bookstores with cafes are great first date spots you met a guy online and he seems all right. Nothing that makes you think he's an axe murderer or something like that. But, a girl can never be too sure (esp. as she gets older.) Because they're so huge, and usually full of people, chain bookstores with cafes are great "let's met for coffee" venues--and, if you're really paranoid, you can have a friend circling the store while you're meeting your date. The date never has to know at all...and you don't have to compare notes with your friend until *after* you've both left. Heck, the friend can even be a trusted guy friend (if you're *really* paranoid.) Then again, if you feel you need the guy friend, chances are you shouldn't be meeting the dude in the first place.


Toby said...

Tish - I see lots of guys in book store cafes (love that phrase) perhaps they are twittering and don't notice the f2f socializing. Funny you should mention first dates in book stores cafe, some of my least memorable ones have been happened there(smile).

Tish Grier said...

Hi Toby...the ones I see are often reading sports magazines, or on their blackberries. There's no free wifi, so it's rare to see anyone on a computer.

We've got so much coffee out here that the bookstore cafe is actually the cafe bookstore. Like Seattle, coffee's a real way of life :-)

mike of concrete said...

The magazine "The Next American City" had a good write-up on how private spaces had become the new public spaces, since today's public spaces are often going to pot, left unmaintained by cash-strapped cities.

The article mentioned Starbucks, but bookstore-cafes would fall into that same category as well.

I riffed on this in one of my first blog posts.

Tish Grier said...

Great point in your post, Mike--about private spaces becoming new public spaces (will be linking it in another post.) And that's an important point. I know that the mall where the Barnes and Noble is located is one of those malls that has replaced two gang-riddled downtown areas, so it's one of the kinds of private/public spaces you talk about.

I've always hated the mall-as-downtown thing. That's what I grew up with in NJ. Hence, I now live in a town--with a thriving "coffee culture" (sans Starbucks.) I'll be writing on that soon.

Tish Grier said...

(I'm talking about the Barnes & Noble in "Ingleside" which is a section of Holyoke, MA.)

Jeff Hess said...

Shalom Tish,

As I've seen the chain bookstores -- particularly Buns & Noodles/Bounders -- become more social friendly, I've wondered how the business model works.

I've read my way through the Zits series of comics at a local Bounders when I was between students. I was not the kind of customer the chain wants, but as this social phenomenon increases, the chains need to figure out how to deal with it and keep their doors open. They can't function as private-club libraries.

I don't see this happening at my favorite independent bookstore. People come into buy, not browse. A large part of that is that we all know the owner and value her place in the community.



Tish Grier said...

Hi Jeff...

As you note, the two different kinds of bookstores could easily have different kinds of value to their communities.

From what I see of the big chains, they might make decent return in special orders, which includes getting books/dvds/cds from other stores (most of the time quicker than Amazon!), the purchases that result from all the events they host, and there's probably some arrangement with the cafes that results in rental income or something like that.

As for closures, I haven't seen any big chains close. The smaller, enclosed-mall chains suffer a bit. I've seen them decrease in size over the years, as well as specialize (the Waldenbooks in one of our malls specializes in teen stuff and foreign language.) The small stores that have closed were fad-based specialty stores (new age, games/mysteries, etc.) And it's amazing how second-hand stores are thriving--but that's also if they diversify and hold other events for exposure.

It's really fascinating--and hardly an indication of obsolescence!