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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Independent Bookstores are Luxuries


While the cheaper prices that Amazon and Barnes and Noble are able to provide are one reason for the demise of the independent bookseller, I would argue that the bigger reason is that independent bookstores misunderstood their potential role in the world of retail. They stuck with an outdated 20th (19th?) century notion of being a collection of shelves filled with books, and didn’t embrace the 21st century reality of providing a distinct experience that connects with their customers.


As such, I find it hard to feel bad about the demise of Cody’s (or any other independent bookseller). And it depresses me to see them talked about as if they’re charities that warrant “saving.” There are many ways book sellers can evolve to create a desirable literary experience that keeps customers coming, attracts new customers, and moves product.

I love independent bookstores, but they have to justify their necessarily higher prices with something more than nostalgia.  Their books are effectively luxury products, and have to be sold as such. Apple does this well.  People who care about computers buy from Apple because they offer a superior products, even though they are more expensive.  Independent bookstores cannot offer superior products, but they can, as Peter Merholz says, offer a superior experience to people who care about books.

I'm James Sulak, a software developer in Houston, Texas.

You can also find me on Twitter, or if you're curious, on my old-fashioned home page. If you want to contact me directly, you can e-mail comments@wordsinboxes.com.