The End of Bookstores?

I wonder: Is this the last time I’ll visit a bookstore?

It’s about two weeks before the release of the iPad in Canada, and I’m at Indigo reading Do More Great Work (it’s crazy good btw). I saw it on Amazon and wanted it right away, so I picked it up here because I wanted that immediacy– book lovers, you know what I mean.

That immediacy required:

  • Going to
  • Looking up “Do More Great Work”
  • Clicking “my location”
  • Checking availability
  • Being in the neighbourhood
  • Looking for the section (it wasn’t there)
  • Finding an employee, who found the book on display

By this point, the book better be good for all the effort I’ve gone through to find it, right? (Hint: Amazon helped with that too.)

Anyway, that immediacy is the only reason I’ve ever come to a bookstore in the past 5 years. Aside from that, it’s always been (which, by the way, doesn’t have the Prime feature you guys have in America) for 95% of my purchases.

At over 60 books purchased per year, I am what people would call an ideal customer for the publishing industry. So are Mitch Joel, Chris Brogan, and many of you. What happens when we all pick up these devices, solving our immediacy problems forever?

Nobody knows.

But we do know that the margins of bookstores are lean as hell… kind of like record stores. Heh.

It’s going to take a lot of candle, wrapping paper, and greeting card displays to cover those losses.

Is the future of the bookstore “The Content Store,” where you go to pick up all your content needs, music, book or otherwise, visited by grandparents everywhere who are afraid of putting their credit cards online? Who knows. But the landscape of content delivery will be changed radically over the next year, that’s for sure.





16 responses to “The End of Bookstores?”

  1. Susan Beebe Avatar

    I agree. Just like we’ve witnessed BlockBuster video adding itself to the obsolete pile, bookstores -heck, anything based on paper and not available in realtime- will possibly go extinct unless they adapt their business model to suit current customer demands.

    Amazon and Apple know how to deliver content fast. Content delivery systems are redefining how we consume media (print, digital, etc). This model definitely threatens old models based on paper, brick/mortar and snail mail. People want information and content in realtime without the hassle of another errand or the wait time for mail delivery.

    Bye bye paper, hello Pixels!

  2. Paul Merrill Avatar

    I’m sure physical books will decrease in popularity. And knock-off iPads will be sold at a price that more can afford. (They’ll be lousy, but they will come.)

    There is something about the feel of the paper & being able to pass on to friends that virtual books cannot match. The few who value those aspects will keep the market alive. But it will be significantly smaller. Eventually most of the used bookstores will die off – maybe 20 years from now.

    We’ll see!

  3. Joseph Avatar

    I can’t wait until we can buy everything online!! Then we never have to go outside ever again…well maybe to the post office.

  4. Tom Martin Avatar


    Interesting post. My 02, agree that as you adopt digital reading devices and you can order a book and have it drop shipped to you next day — bookstores start to lose some of their appeal.

    BUT — at least here in NOLA, you drive by B&N on a Friday night at 10p and the parking lot is full. It’s folks going for an experience and maybe a bit of community. Maybe the future of bookstores is they become the modern day bar or coffee shop. It’s where you go to commune with others or have a bit of community as you surf the web, work or just hang.

    And of course, there is always something relaxing and enjoyable about browsing books with a cup of joe.


  5. John McLachlan Avatar

    I’ve been waiting for this day for years and it’s finally upon us. I bought an iPad last week in New York and have my first two book purchases already. YAY.

    My first job was in 1978 working in a book store. I loved book stores. I loved the smell of them, but the model has changed and they are going, going, gone.

    I love the feel of paper and the smell of a book, but it’s too easy to confuse the delivery method (paper and ink) with the content (the words and ideas).

    In my view, the future is finally here. Bookstores will be gonesville shortly, for better or worse.

    The book is dead. Long live the book.

  6. Bill Garber Avatar
    Bill Garber

    Silly me … I filled in the street address, … you have no officially redefined ‘mail’ as ’email’?

    In any event …

    Kindle? Great reading experience!
    iPad? Not so good.

    Instant delivery is wonderful. And when the page shows, would someone please set the refresh rate on the iPad to ‘0’? And, no there is not an app for that. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Michael Avatar


    I am crazy flattered about your kind words about Do More Great Work. Thank you!

  8. aleksandre Avatar

    The physical bookstores are dead (or soon will be dead) in my opinion, unless they shift towards the direction of being the place to socialize (as mentioned in previous comments).

    But I cannot give up paper books that easily (I buy all of them online). Even though I’d like to have a Kindle or other similar device and I probably will have one someday they still can’t beat paper books. To me purchasing a book, waiting for it a week to arrive to my local post office, bringing in home and unpacking… well it is whole ritual for me ๐Ÿ™‚ but maybe it is just me and few other “crazy” people…

  9. c1 Avatar

    I mostly use book stores to pick up clearance books or a list of what to order on Amazon. Except for maybe one or two books a year (out of 25-40 book purchases), there is nothing that would make me want to pay $10-$20+ more per book just for the immediacy when I can get it for significantly less on Amazon with free shipping, and in some cases 1-2 day shipping added on is still less then the price B&N, Borders and the rest charge.

    As pointed out above, big box book retailers need to aim for creating that community atmosphere, book clubs, etc. to stay relevant.

    While the Kindle, iPad and other devices are nice and may well prove to be the dominate format or at least provide impressive supplementary content and updates (new revenue stream for current event books?)… nothing beats the romance of a lone time with a good book in your hands and “unplugging”. I read to “unplug” from the world of emails, harsh screens, etc. and the electronic devices by design don’t come anywhere near replicating that feeling.

  10. Aaron Foley Avatar

    Interesting thoughts as always.
    I can’t help but think that Bookstores, and Music Stores are facing the same problem that newspapers are; they don’t realize the real business they’re in. It could be argued, i think, that bookstores are no longer in the (sole?) business of selling books, but rather they’re in the business of selling an experience. There’s a reason it’s a starbucks in chapters and not a McDonalds. Ordering from amazon is probably more convenient than going to the bookstore but it’s the experience that makes it worth going. In the same way buying a CD on will never fully replace flipping through vinyl at the record store. You go there not for the physical product but for the knowledge of the staff and recommendations you’ll get. While we may not be seeing the bookstore as it is now the physical entity will always exist is some fashion as it has forever. The key will be to develop a retail outlet for experience and knowledge. Where the physical or digital product is secondary to what the customer is real looking for.

  11. ginevra Avatar

    Hah! But you live near Amazon’s headquarters (ie in Canada, North America). I live in Australia. There’s no I have to wait minimum 3 days for my books, at double the cost of the book, or battle all the restrictions applied to downloading anything to here.

    Or I could walk 15 minutes along a sunny street to a major book store (or pick one of 7 stores within a 15 minute bus ride, I live centrally) and pick up a book. Look at it (really look, not at some preview of 2 pages and the badly worded index). Decide if I like it.

    Which would you do? (My point is, not everyone/everywhere in the world is the same).

  12. teevee Avatar

    I think there will always be a place for bookstores and the old mom&pop bookstores will be the ones that survive.

    But the big box B&N type of bookstores are dead.

    I have seen some amazing things being done by independent musicians to create, market, and sell their content. I am anxious to see the same thing from the independent writers.

    I personally love it.

  13. Sandy Mackay Avatar
    Sandy Mackay

    This is a moot discussion. We should ask the people who aren’t online what they think will happen to bookstores!

  14. John McLachlan Avatar

    Sandy, people who aren’t online will be screwed in five years. Once the tipping point happens with books and more are sold in electronic format than paper format, the quick slide will happen and we will be left with a few small independent bookstores just as we are being left now with small independent record stores selling vinyl. It will be a nice, fun but a niche market.

    I can still feel the joy of dropping a needle on the vinyl even though it’s been years since I’ve done it. I will always remember the joy of the smell of ink on paper and the overall feel of physical books, but I think we are mixing the medium far too much with the content of books (or music).

    I LOVE paper books, but they are DONE. FINISHED. I’m just glad I like the new display technology (screens) more than the old one (paper).

    To “cl” who feels that it will be tough to unplug, I have no issue at all feeling unplugged when reading a book on my iPad. This doesn’t mean I still don’t love paper, but I just think so much of this is how we choose to look at it.

  15. ella Avatar

    I don’t agree. Guys like you like & other early adopters buy books online and get themselves an iPad 2 seconds after it comes out – then there are people like me who go: Hm. I need something to read. And go to a bookshop, and wander around the different sections & categories I enjoy, and pick up one, and read the back, and maybe skim a few pages, and wander a bit further and pick up another, and so on, and end up buying 1 or 2 books that I might not have known existed before I walked into that bookshop. And that’s an important part of the book-buying experience for many readers – look around yourself at that Indigo (Place Mtl Trust?) – I’d lay odds that even if you were there in the middle of the day, the place was packed.

    Early adopter land is a fun place to live, I’m not knocking it. But y’all need to stop once in a while and really observe how the rest of us unwashed masses live before you go ahead & proclaim the ‘death’ of something, y’hear? ๐Ÿ˜‰

  16. Daniel Kuperman Avatar

    I like to go to bookstores to check out books before buying them online. Sure, some books you can search and view online but not all books allow you to do that and in some cases you want to see how the quality of the book and images really are (art books, photography books, etc.). Once I browse the physical book, I sure check online for the best price available.

    Another reason I go to the bookstore: the coffee. Imagine a rainy afternoon, nothing on the TV and I want to get out of the house. I go to the bookstore, get a Starbucks (all Barnes&Noble in the US have a Starbucks inside), a few books, and read them while drinking.

    And finally, I like to go to the bookstore when I don’t know what book to buy. Just browsing the physical books, going through the store and stopping by a section that I wouldn’t have searched for online, helps me get some good ideas of interesting books to read.

    What is the large chain bookstore (Barnes and Noble and Borders in the US) starting to replace? Local libraries. Why go to the library when you can find most books at the bookstore and have a better experience? I see many people going to the store and reading books while sipping coffee, enjoying comfortable chairs and sofas, with background music playing, and not paying for the book they are reading.

    Not sure what the bookstore of the future will be like, but in order to survive they will have to adapt and start mixing the offline and online worlds.

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