Larry Enright

Larry Enright

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Modest Proposal for the future of Bookstores

The future of bookstores.

I believe it is time for bookstores to reinvent themselves or die. My modest proposal is for them to borrow the publish-on-demand model. For those of you unfamiliar with this, a publish-on-demand book is printed when you click “place order.” There is no inventory, no associated costs, no warehouses, nothing like that at all. The book in paperback form does not exist until you want it.

Now imagine for a moment the bookstore with the sophisticated printer required to print such books. For the record, I have no idea what they look like, but how complicated could it be? And if it is complicated, how long until a tech-savvy entrepreneur reinvents the technology to be cheaper and more efficient? (I hope one of you is reading this.)

So, there you are in the bookstore, browsing the shelves of covers (not books), or perhaps single copies of books (printed at the store naturally). You decide you like one, so you take the cover over to the counter and say the magic words “I want to buy this, please.” The clerk enters your order, takes your money, and replies, “Thank you, here is a coupon for a complimentary coffee, donut, bagel, whatever you like at our Starbucks over there. Relax for ten minutes and enjoy a drink on us while your book is made. It will come to you at your table, literally, hot off the presses.”

Gone is the inventory, gone the shipping overhead, gone the out-of-print nonsense. Print costs would be less. Happiness levels would be up. What remains are the real books we all cherish, despite our Kindles, Nooks, I-Pads, and such. And, most importantly, the bookstores we love to frequent would still be there for our children.