Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The bookstore of the (near) future?

So, Ann Arbor has a new Border's "concept store," their attempt to reinvent themselves and reinvigorate their business before Amazon buries them. Grand Opening was this weekend, with music, readings, long-distance book signings, and all manner of other hoopla.

So what's different? Mainly, Border's is trying to mate the bricks & mortar store with the internet by providing web services. The music section has been drastically reduced; not too many CD's to buy. But there is a kiosk, with multiple workstations, for selecting songs or albums for approximately $1 per song. You can download the tunes to your MP3 player, or, if you're a semi-Luddite, burn your own CD. A few packaged CD's are still available for the complete Luddite.

Similarly, you can pay to listen to an audio book. The book is offered in medium-sized chunks so that you don't have to commit to reading/hearing it all at once. I didn't get the price for this service, but I won't be using an audio book except when I'm in the car anyway.

Publish your own book! $300 for the basic package, $500 for the premium, which includes editing help from a real live human being, and you can have your book professionally bound and sold at Border's. There have always been vanity presses, but the nifty thing here is that, a) it's cheaper because you don't have to print a lot of books; and b) your book will show up in online searches.

Similar offerings: join Family Tree Maker or Ancestry.com and search your genealogy at Border's. Plan your travel or your next meal with special sections devoted to these activities. Print your digital photos. Buy your MP3 player or other electronic gadget in the bookstore.

Aside from the emphasis on e-this 'n' that, it's still a bookstore. There are slightly fewer books, so that more of them can be placed on the shelf with the cover showing (and if separating themselves from Barnes & Noble is the goal, that's not the direction to go). The salesman I talked to thought I looked skeptical as he gave the spiel (with honest enthusiasm, it seemed). Not skeptical, just curious, I replied. Success, ultimately, will depend not on what people are able to do, but what they like doing. Is downloading music at the bookstore going to be preferable to doing it at home? Do I need Border's to research my genealogy? A lot of cool ideas fail because, as it turns out, few people had a burning desire to do things the cool way; how long has the video phone been technologically feasible? On the other hand, digital photography swept away film in just a few years. So we'll see how much of this stuff ends up exciting the consumers who are supposed to pay for it.

As for myself - I watched Margaret Atwood, on a large tv screen, sign her name on a tablet in Toronto, push a button, and cause a pen in Ann Arbor to replicate her signature on a book cover. Then I wandered back to the "buy one, get one half price" table and purchased The Handmaid's Tale and Slaughterhouse Five in nice, quality paperback editions. They feel nice.

1 comment:

Heather said...

That's pretty fascinating, actually -- a read/write, 2.0 bookstore, featuring multiple ways to interact with and personalize media. I'll be quite interested to see if this model takes off or not.