e-books slowing down

Would You Invest Your Money In a Brick and Mortar Bookstore?

I’ve read a great deal recently about how e-book sales have been leveling off, and with these articles I’ve found an enormous amount of commentary about how print books aren’t going to disappear and e-books will never really take off. This one is interesting.

Having survived 500 years of technological upheaval, Gutenberg’s invention may withstand the digital onslaught as well. There’s something about a crisply printed, tightly bound book that we don’t seem eager to let go of.

But, would the author of this article, a Mr. Nicholas Carr, actually invest his money right now, at this point in time, in a brick and mortar bookstore? For a while this concept opening a small bookstore almost became a cliche, in both real life and chick lit. After a bitter divorce, the ex-wife would take a large chunk of her settlement and go into business by opening a small bookstore/tea shop. Two years later, she’d be in nursing school trying to figure out how to support herself and cut her losses. I saw that too many times to even count.

Don’t think like a reader, a book lover, or even an author. Think like a businessperson this time. In order to survive, brick and mortar bookstores have been selling everything from stuffed animals to pots and pans. I’m surprised they aren’t selling turkey dinners with dressing. And even with the addition of new product, along with print books, they can’t seem to remain afloat. Not even the large chains.

I remember when all this started back in the 1990’s. I had just opened my art gallery and I was two stores away from a very nice brick and mortar women’s bookstore. In New Hope, we get thousands of tourists passing through town on any given week at certain times of the year. So with that kind of foot traffic you’d think that a brick and mortar bookstore would be able to at least make a decent living for the owner. I was in business for ten years. I did okay and never had trouble paying my rent with the gallery. But I never saw a brick and mortar bookstore last more than a year or two. Most left in the dead of January in the middle of the night never to be seen again.

At the time, you couldn’t blame e-books. No one even knew what they were. What the owners of these small brick and mortar bookstores claimed at the time was that the bigger stores like B&N and Borders were eating them alive and they couldn’t compete. I think that’s partly true. But I also think that reading habits had changed by the 1990’s and people were just reading a lot less in general. I think publishing in general went through a stale period around that time. I used to belong to the book of the month club and I remember hearing they were having trouble making a profit.

In any event, I wouldn’t have invested my money in a brick and mortar bookstore back then, and I certainly wouldn’t do it now. I highly doubt Mr. Carr who wrote the article I linked to above would either. All you have to do it take a look at kids from three to twenty years old and see how they are reading. It’s not print books.

So while e-book sales may have leveled off for the time being, I doubt they will disappear any time soon. I wouldn’t be so radical as to predict that e-books will take over completely by the year 2020. However, I don’t think it would be unrealistic to predict that it could happen by the year 2030. And it could take that long because we still have to get through one or two more generations who refuse to even look at an e-book. I understand that to a certain extent. But not completely. I can’t imagine going back to reading print books anymore. Or, paying the prices I used to pay for print books. Or not being able to order a book on Amazon at midnight and have it delivered instantly to my tablet.

There are still a lot of things to be worked out with e-books, like sharing for one, and pricing for another. But even with all the issues going on right now, I wouldn’t invest my money in a brick and mortar bookstore unless I wanted to take a loss on purpose (people do this all the time for tax purposes). I actually haven’t used either of my two e-readers in a while. But that’s only because I’ve been reading on my tablet and my phone, not because I went back to reading print books. And that’s even more interesting. While I have heard all kind of statistics about how e-book sales have leveled out, I have not yet heard once where anyone who made the switch to reading e-books ever went back to reading print books entirely. I’ll admit I’m not as exicted about e-books as I was five years ago because it’s so common to me now. But that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped reading e-books.