In my last post, I asked what the relationship will be between ebooks and physical bookstores? Calgary’s Enthrill Entertainment may have the answer. They will be selling physical e-books in some brick-and-mortar stores throughout Canada. The personalized attention, customer service, and sense of community at many of these stores is something online bookstores can’t match. This new service allows customers to get this experience plus the ease and versatility of an e-book.
But how much of the convenience of e-books is the fact that you can buy them anywhere? Having to drive to a bookstore and wait in line for a book you want to read now and can get in a matter of minutes with a credit card may not be a compromise everyone is willing to make. Having said that, I enjoy going to bookstores and find this idea intriguing. To be able to physically browse through a selection is one of the best parts of book shopping. And if these are the same price as they are online, I think many people will prefer this method of buying ebooks. They also allow ebooks to be given as gifts. I, for one, can’t wait!
In the US, national bookstore chain Borders recently declared bankruptcy. Barnes and Noble is also in serious financial trouble, with several store closings and layoffs. In Canada, McNally Robinson faced a similar crisis and blamed it on the increased competition from ebooks. So the question is, are ebooks the end of physical bookstores?
Phyllis Lamken, owner of Dark Horse Books in Idaho, doesn’t think so. She believes bookstores serve a vital purpose and provide a sense of community that online retailers can’t compete with. She also believes that the forecasted success of ebooks is largely exaggerated, saying ebooks will never be more than 20 percent of book sales. In fact, she actually argues that ebook sales will drive physical book sales by serving as a marketing technique.
This is an interesting perspective but I’m not sure how realistic it is. Although I certainly hope brick-and-mortar bookstores are always around, it seems unrealistic to think they’ll never increase past 20 percent of the market share. Still relatively new, they are already over 8 percent of overall book sales in the U.S., which has more than doubled since the previous year. Many people make the comparison between digital books and digital music. Music downloads make up almost half of all music sales, as I mentioned in a previous post.
Although Michael Hyatt of Thomas Nelson Publishers would disagree with the comparison. He believes ebook sales will rise at a slower rate than digital music sales. One of the reasons for this, he argues, is that people are more attached to physical books, and the tactile elements of reading are an inherent part of its enjoyment. But he does acknowledge that the book industry is going through a “digital transformation”.
And this, I think, is the real question: what will be the nature of the new relationship between ebooks and physical bookstores? I guess we will see.