I love bookstores. I love them for their curation. I particularly love how smaller bookstores have a fantastic selection. However, I have a dark secret — I almost only go to bookstores when I’m traveling, and I go to great pains not to carry more stuff than I absolutely need. So I rarely buy printed books in stores, ever.
Instead — and this sounds (and is) a little sad — I jot down the books I want in the bookstore and buy them later, often online. This feels deeply unfair, almost like cheating on the bookstore owner.
So I’m wondering how both worlds can be merged for the better. In other words, how can we enjoy the curatorial services of a well-run bookstore and make sure the shop stays in business — without having to lug around books in a carry-on?
Here’s an idea: We cut bookstores in on every sale they help generate.
The mechanism could be relatively simple. A store owner signs up online with the big platforms and publishers — say, Amazon. When I go to a bookstore and find a book, I scan the book’s barcode with the store’s Kindle app to buy an electronic copy. The app checks my location, asks me to confirm the store I’m in, and registers all book sales through the app to that store. While the ebook downloads to my device of choice, the shop collects a commission. Amazon (or any other platform or publisher, for that matter) sells another book, I can keep traveling light, and the store gets its fair share. Everyone’s happy.
Where the billing takes place doesn’t really matter at this point: In this example it’s through Amazon, but it could be any number of new umbrella services or publishers’ platforms. There’s probably room in this space for half a dozen startups. But no matter how it happens, the important thing is that bookstores get a share in exchange for their curation. Because we really don’t want to have to rely on Amazon’s recommendation services alone.
Is anyone working on this yet?
Update: David D. Levine kindly pointed me to this cooperation between Powell’s Partners and Kobo. Thanks, David!
Update: I re-wrote and polished this post up a bit to re-post it to Medium.
Update: Thanks to the fine folks at Medium, notably Kate Lee, the post has been featured in Medium’s Editors’ Picks as well as the collection The Future of Publishing.