The future of brick-and-mortar bookstores

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.