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Scott Karp Gives Up on Bookstores

Books2He says bookstores are becoming obsolete and doesn't see himself visiting another one anytime soon, at least not for his own needs.  It's tempting to do all your book shopping online but I worry about the serendipity factor and the loss of product discoverability.

When I go to an online bookstore it's generally with a purpose in mind. My typical Amazon visit is for a destination purchase, not browsing.  That, or I'm doing some research on the site.  Impulse buys rarely happen for me online.  Comparing the online experience to the brick-and-mortar one, I find the latter to be a mix of destination purchases and impulse buys.

It's so much easier to get lost in the shelves at your local brick-and-mortar.  When was the last time that happened to you on Amazon, for example?  Has it ever happened to you on Amazon?!


Anthony S. Policastro

Hi Joe,
Bookstores just like movie theaters will never go away for the reasons you mention - impulse buying and browsing and simply the experience of being there.

People spend thousands to create a "home theater" experience with a high definition plasma TV and 18 or so speakers spread all over the room, but will that ever replace the smell of buttery popcorn, the vast darkness of the theater, the munching of other viewers far and near, the bigger than life picture and the experience of just being there?

Bookstores are the same with all the cozy smells that linger when you enter, the smell of a book, the feel of it in your hand, the texture of the pages between your fingers, the cornucopia of colors, graphics and type all around you and the single thought that you are surrounded by the imaginations, thoughts and deepest essences of thousands of people (authors) who are sharing a big part of their lives with you through books.

Online book buying is a great tool, but like any tool you don't think much about it - you just use it to get the job done and purchase a book.

Jim Minatel

I "get lost" in the shelves both at B&N and Amazon. They're difference experiences, but both useful. On Amazon I'm prone to taking random walks through "customers who purchased this book also pruchased blank" links and finding interesting books that way. Or reading reviews, top 100 best sellers in categories, all the titles by an author, and so on. In a store, the book is in one place (maybe 2: the catagory slef and a promo placement), on Amazon, I can find it from looking in any number of directions.

Conversely at B&N, I'm very much more influenced by table and endcap placement. Just a week ago I bought Spook Country there because I saw it on a table for 20% off rather than wait for Amazon to deliver it for 40% off. I can't entirely explain why, but it seemed like the right thing to do.


I find it is easy to get lost in the shelves at Amazon but rarely does it result in a purchase (although it might end up in something being added to my wishlist). Instead, I find myself correcting information, adding covers, sometimes writing reviews (although now I tend to do that on instead) or rating past reads. However, I agree for the most part that spontaneous purchases are probably rare in the online bookworld unless one needs to add just one book to make the postage-free minimum.

Note also that while B&'s prices are usually not competitive with Amazon, an occasional purchase there is a way to accumulate miles on certain airlines (when done via their site). I had United Mileage from old trips to Foster City that I didn't want to evaporate although it is an airline I never use.

But people like to hang out in bookstores, and certainly parents of young children use them the way our parents used libraries (going back to your contention that libraries are obsolete).

Ellen Gerstein

Buying "Spook Country" now was the right thing to do, Jim. Love that author, love that book.

Michael A. Banks

Browsing shelves by eye and books by hand can't be duplicated onine.

John Helmus

Books may not go away but bookstores with loads of books on shelves will. Bookstores will need to figure out something else to sell in the real estate they have.

The competition from big box retailers selling books will continue to kill blockbuster titles for them and the online stores will kill the extended backlist. How they handle the midlist stuff will be interesting.

It goes without saying the demographics of book readers skews way too old and younger readers don't read (buy) enough. They go for the free content model they grew up with.

Look, I love bookstores as much as anyone, but it's not the destination it used to be.

Joe Wikert

John, excellent observations. You're absolutely right about how the brick-and-mortar stores are getting it on both sides. It doesn't seem like anyone could really build a thriving store business around the midlist though.

I know it still seems like a pipe dream, but I can't help think how much an impact print-on-demand could have on the brick-and-mortars. They might never be able to compete with Walmart with regular deep discounts of the bestsellers, but if they had access to the entire "long tail" that Amazon does, but with the added benefit of instant gratification via POD, well, they might be able to get some momentum back.

Book Calendar

New bookstores will go the way of the dinosaurs for the most part except for some of the big independents and a very few specialty stores.

However, used bookstores, the giants like the Strand and Powells will stay in business. Barnes and Nobles and Borders don't understand the used book business very well. They don't understand how to properly hire people who sell used books. It is a very different process than hiring minimum wage counter workers.

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Very insightful post. I enjoyed reading this and the comments as well.

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