If I Had a Bazillion Dollars: eBooks in Stores

When I presented at Digital Book, one of my fellow panelists was Michael Santangelo, the Electronic Resources Specialist at the Brooklyn Public Library. In his slides, he featured a picture of their digital kiosks, which allow library patrons to check requests, reserve books, and manage most of the features of their library account.

I think similar kiosks should be installed in bookstores so that people who want to buy ebooks can do so – in the store. This would be where the million dollars come in! Any sexy venture capitalists out there want to take me to lunch?

I’m a dedicated ebook reader, and I absolutely prefer reading digital books. But I shop for books in the bookstore all the time. I visit the Borders on Park and 59th frequently, looking at the new releases, flipping through the pages, and seeing what catches my eye. Sometimes, I write down titles and look for them online, and other times I take a picture of the book to remind me to look it up later.

I talk to the fabulously knowledgeable people who work in bookstores, too. Some of the most avid romance fans I know are the bookstore employees who shelve the romance and fantasy/sci fi section.  Some of the folks doing the shelving of the new books on Monday afternoon were very, very savvy about what was selling and what they thought was great – and I got a slew of ideas of what books I’d like to read next. I also talk to strangers who are shopping the romance shelves and ask what they’ve read.

Here’s where the guilt comes in: I shop in the bookstore… and then I buy digitally later on because I can’t buy digital books at Borders’ stores. I may buy prizes for the site, or books for my children, or gifts for folks I know, but rarely do I buy an actual book. I know, I know. Horrible. But I don’t want paper books, except in rare circumstances. For my reading, I want digital.

So why shouldn’t that bookstore earn some of my money? If I could bring my Sony reader into the bookstore and buy the book – either on a memory card or by hooking my reader up to the kiosk itself – I could purchase my preferred format (that’d be ePub, please) and walk out a happy customer.

Currently many libraries across the US allow patrons to borrow digital books for reading on Sony Readers and other devices that are compatible with their formatting. From what I can tell, despite the technology present in the kiosks at libraries like the Brookyn Public Library, the borrowing of digital media usually happens at home or perhaps on one of the library computer workstations.

I would personally enjoy the option to buy a digital book after shopping in the store for what’s new and on the shelves. I’d love to be able to stroll over to a kiosk or desk, pay for a digital book and download it to my ebook reader or upload to an online library of my books. Imagine that for eHarlequin: a month’s worth of books in paper on the rack, and a data port up top for plugin and download – or even an option to buy a micro-SD card of the same books on side. So many people are holding their breath, waiting for a digital device that can compete with the Kindle. Why not make connectivity an option IN bookstores, allowing readers like me to buy and, well, unlock and load?

I’m not the only one who shops in bookstores then buys digital – when I asked the following question on Twitter, my responses were many and similar:

“Question: if you read ebooks, do you still shop in bookstores? What do you look for?”

I’m not alone in shopping in stores for their browsability, then buying digitally:

Yodiwan says, “I buy HCs (in bookstores) to shelve, ebooks to read (for one-handed reading on crowded subways).”

Shannon Stacey says, “We still go to Borders 1x/month or so. Guys get books/magazines. I browse covers/copy b/c harder in digital, leave emptyhnded.”

Carolyn Jewel says, “Heck yeah! I take my son and we browse diff. sections. My local indie is fantastic. Lots of stuff to see.”

RowanLake says, “I’ve changed how I shop at my bookstore. I’m looking for particular bks instead of browsing. (bks I couldn’t find at FW)…” [FW = Fictionwise]

Kenda Montgomery says, “Definitely. Mostly series I started out in paperback form. Prefer to keep reading those in paper. Start new in ebook. Usually.”

BritBonsai says, “99% of my purchase is ebooks. If Trusted Reviewers + Glowing Reviews = Serious Musthavenow but 0 ebook, then off 2 store I go.”

Rowan is not the only one looking for paper instead of digital in some situations. BookWyrm217 says, “Yes-authors whose books I already have so I complete the series.Otherwise I tend to look for new releases & hope for ebook”

Courtney Milan articulated my complaint with browsing online: “It’s a lot harder to browse in ebook format, so I look for books/authors I haven’t seen before.”

Elise Logan agrees: “re brick and mortar. Yes, i do – when I have no idea what i want. they are better for browsing large volumes of titles. IMHO”

Jane says, “I still buy paper books for my daughter & big picture books & gifts. I run thru rom section just to see what’s shelved out.”

Jo-Ann Kenrick says, “still go to local Barnes n Noble.buy my kids books then browse for books to add to digital to buy list!”

And as Christina Dodd pointed out, “Bksellers want 1. to sell you books 2. for you to return. So they’ll match you to bks they think you’ll like.”

It’s not merely a question of improving the browse feature of online bookstores, although that would be a plus. I LOVE bookstores. I love knowledgeable bookstore employees. I love buying children’s books from my local independent, Watchung Booksellers. I love browsing the romance section – and looking at the shelves full of books I might want to read. I love so many things about bookstores – except for the paper books. I wish I had the option to buy digital books IN the store itself. I miss the experience of going to bookstores to browse, so I do it. Then I feel guilty doing it because all along I intend to buy digital. The experience of browsing IN a bookstore, of picking up the book and flipping through the first chapter, is currently unequaled in most digital bookstores.

I know bookstores are hurting from people not shopping or buying books so much. Me, I am definitely shopping for books. And I do like to step outside the internet (DEAR GOD DID I SAY THAT OUT LOUD?!) and talk to people for reading ideas. I wish there was a way for me to compensate the store that employs these people, aside from my wasting money on a paper book I likely won’t read. The option to buy digital books inside a bookstore would, for me, ROCK.

Do you agree? Will you always go to bookstores no matter what? Do you shop in bookstores and then buy digital? What is it about browsing in a bookstore that you love? Could the bookstore experience ever be replicated online?


Random Musings

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Lola says:

    I think I will always go to bookstores no matter what. I just can’t sit and read digital like I can paperbacks (much to the dismay of my mother who firmly disapproves of the stacks of books around my room and the bookshelf in my closet ^^).

    What I love about going to the bookstore, any bookstore, is the experience of going to the store and seeing all of the books for the first time. New books on the racks, bestsellers on tables, and ‘special’ books. Going to the bookstore (for me) is like Christmas morning…everytime. My family hates me for this but I could stay in a bookstore for hours and just read my new books and take in the atmosphere. The smell of coffee (usually) mixed in with that new book smell and the not-too-loud music playing in the background creates my kind of atmosphere.

    I should only hope that the internet can’t replicate the bookstore experience! Why would I leave the house?

  2. 2
    Babs says:

    Brilliant idea…why don’t bookstores do this? I would so buy digital in a bookstore if I could. And my impulse purchases would most likely go UP since I’m in shops buying presents for othes often, along with books for my daughter. As for shops themselves, I love browsing to see what is out since I never remember when titles are being published…also chatting with employees and other shoppers (depending on the section!) Cover art is big for me and if it catches my eye I’ll definitely flip through the paper copy to see if it is a possible purchase. Both my parents were HUGE book fans so honestly, I will always visit brick & mortar stores—they are ever so comforting and offer so much possibility.

  3. 3
    CMaeTay says:

    I’m a bargain shopper, so I’m not sure if the kiosks would work for me. More important than digital vs. paper is the cost to me. When I’m in a brick & mortar store, I’m constantly surfing the net on my phone to see if A) an ebook is available in some form that is usable with my Sony, and B) if the ebook version is cheaper than the paper version. If they cost the same, I’ll typically go with the digital version.

    That said, I still would be in favor of the kiosks. Maybe you should start a fund for the Bitchery to contribute to—like micro-loans but for in-store ebook kiosks!

  4. 4
    ev says:

    I would so buy books directly that way. I still hit the bookstore, but like someone else said, to see what is available, what catches my eye and then buy it in digital. Unless it is someone who I already have so I can complete the series. I have stacks and stacks of books to read but even find myself buying them in digital rather than carrying around a paper book.Why? I have no bloody clue except that I find the ereader so much easier to read on.

  5. 5
    Sylenc says:

    My love of brick and mortar bookstores is one of the factors that held me back from ebooks for so long.  I love the smell of bookstores, the people you meet while browsing different sections, being able to pick up and skim the first few pages of something that catches your eye, and the opportunity to find something different that you might not have looked at online.  Being able to browse through paper books and buy them in digital format would be wonderful, especially if it would also support my local bookstore at the same time!

  6. 6

    I’ll always go to the bookstore…no matter what.  And oh, yes, I’d like an option of buying my ebooks in the store.  Just plug my Sony in and away we go.  I think it’s a brilliant idea.

    Find that sexy venture capitalist~I’d go for this idea in a heartbeat.

  7. 7
    Mark Evans says:

    It would be an interesting experiment.  I’m frankly skeptical that there would be enough customers who would make the effort to stop at a store with a device to download a file (book) to make this work.  That said, I could very well be wrong.

    Up until February, I worked at Borders Books & Music and one of the projects that I assisted with was testing of in-store downloads of MP3’s.  For a lot of reasons (that might not affect similar effort for ebooks), this was DOA.

    I think it is a difficult proposition for bricks and mortar stores to participate fully in ebooks, something that consumers can do from their living rooms or any number of other more convenient spots.

    If something like this does work, I’m guessing it will involve wireless devices that tap into the bookstore’s site (perhaps indiebound for the indies) and allow them to easily buy a book while in the store but also while anywhere else.  If a store offers wireless, it is possible to guide network users to the site.  No kiosk required and the customers can still buy the ebook from other, more convenient places.


  8. 8
    KellyMaher says:

    I think it was yesterday, or the night before, someone on Twitter posted a floorplan attributed to Moriah Jovan which shows the potential placement of the Espresso Book Machines & download stations in a bookstore. As one of my original life plans was to be a bookstore owner, not a writer or librarian, I took an entrepreneurship class in college and wrote up a business plan for that endeavor. At that point, I considered the possibility of having a 2nd hand book section to draw in reluctant purchasers. Now, after seeing that blueprint, I’ve been mulling over the possibilities of a digital section, and I’m liking what I’m seeing. If I were the bookstore owner, I personally wouldn’t dedicate as much space initially towards the section as suggested in the blueprint, but would rather spend that money in training the staff who I’d assign to man it in customer service/technical assistance to make the process as seamless for the customers as possible. I do especially like the idea of the Espresso Book Machine for the fulfillment of books I couldn’t reasonably stock in a physical format.

    Gah! I’ve got way too many ideas regarding how you would set up a bookstore like this. When will I learn I’m poor and there are no sugar daddies on the horizon?

  9. 9
    Mo says:

    yes yes yes what you said is exactly how I feel !!!!

  10. 10
    Kimi McG says:

    There is a certain indefinable quality about a bookstore that demands browsing. At my local Borders you can go upstairs and order a coffee (in a real mug) and wander the shelves for hours. I find myself buying paperbacks, even though I have no more room for them, because I can flip through them and read the first chapter. I buy books online as well for my Reader, but if I really like the author, say Suzanne Enoch, I buy real books and they go automatically on my bookshelves. I’m too wary about the volatility of the online publishing world to commit all my favorites to electronic format.

  11. 11

    Sarah, it is coming. I attended a conference for mystery writers in Ottawa in June and one of the panelist on ebooks, a bookstore owner, said that a divise for bookstores was mentioned or revealed (sorry I can’t remember which) at BEA. She didn’t say if it was this year or not.

    Personally I like the idea. I’m not 100% comfortable purchasing over the internet. You would think I would be after all these and many purchases. BN should jump on this since they already offer their American customers this on their website.

  12. 12
    Cathy says:

    As much as I love my Kindle, having an e-reader has pretty much killed the joy of browsing in a physical store.  I feel uncomfortable bringing my Kindle into a B&N (the only bookstore near me) to browse and buy from Amazon, and I’m not willing to buy more paper books, so I just stay away.

    I love the idea of a kiosk or wifi to make ebooks available.  Of course, I picked the e-reader with no bricks-and-mortar counterpart, but that’s a different issue.

  13. 13
    Melissa S. says:

    Funny! I was thinking about kiosks in the bookstore as well. I go to the bookstore and browse for books when I need to kill an hour or something. I HATE when I find a couple of books that I want to read and then I get home and find it’s not available as an ebook. If there were kiosks, I would at least be able to check that and buy the paper copy.

    But at the same time, I’m seeing long lines at the ONE kiosk in my future if the bookstores begrudgingly give in to this idea, but think people don’t read ebooks.

  14. 14
    dangrgirl says:

    I think this is a great idea. Leslie Dicken and I were talking about the kiosk idea a few weeks ago on Twitter. One of the stumbling blocks would be getting the licensing for proprietary operating systems like the Kindle. Also, after thinking about this for a while I wonder if the real marketing target for an ebook kiosk might be print-only readers as in introduction to ebook technology. After all, once you already have a reader like Kindle (or the Kindle app on the iPhone, which is what I use) you can use the Whispernet option to download new books right to your device. Also, the brick-and-mortar store is going to want a cut, so that decreases profits for the author and publisher.

    As a reader, I’d love to see some cross-promotion between ebooks and print books. This might be able to draw in new ebook readers too. For instance, for a book that’s in print and found in a brick-and-mortar bookstore (whether it came out first electronically doesn’t matter in this example), it would be added value to the reader to have additional content available at a kiosk and online.

    So, you buy the book and either on the cover, inserted into the book, or on the inside cover somewhere is info on how to download extra scenes, or maps, short stories set in the same world, or some other worldbuilding materials—sort of like the extras on a DVD. Following along the idea of product placement marketing so prevalent in movies and TV to refer to some of these extras in the story itself. For instance, a character uses a map at some point and the reader can go download that map in various ways.

    There are some wrinkles to iron out regarding the kiosk idea, but I think it could work, at least as in intro for new ebook readers.

  15. 15

    I’m totally behind this idea.  I think many books are purchased on impulse.  “Hey, look at this cover.” or “this back cover blurb makes the book sound awesome!” By having such a kiosk in the store, ebook authors would have the same benefits of impulse buyers. Although growing, the number of people who actually CHOOSE to go surfing online bookstores is still a much smaller figure than those who wander into a brick-and-mortar bookstore.

    Hopefully, this idea will come to fruition in the near future!

  16. 16
    Kalen Hughes says:

    Didn’t Borders just buy Fictionwise? Seems it would be pretty easy to have their in-store computers let you access Fictionwise and buy books. You browse. You find a book you want. You wander over and click on Fictionwise and PRESTO, you’ve bought the book AND supported the store you’re in (alternatively, you could just go home and buy from Fictionwise and still feel no sting of guilt).

  17. 17
    Debra Hyde says:

    I can’t count the number of times I’ve browsed at Borders, considered certain titles, then went home and bought them via Sony. And I say that as a decades-long Borders fan.

    But I’m like you, Sarah—even more dedicated to ebook reading, thanks to bad eyesight.  A kiosk would melt away my resistance for sure.  I’d get my ebook on site and Borders could add my dollars to their revenue stream.  Win-win.

  18. 18
    fshk says:

    I live spitting distance from the central branch of the Brooklyn Public Library and can verify that those kiosks do everything but make toast. (The last time I was in the library, I had to pay my overdue fine at the kiosk rather than the circulation desk, actually.) You can also checkout ebooks (and audiobooks and movies, actually) through the BPL’s website. It is awesome. Yay for libraries!

    But, yeah, since getting an ebook reader, I prefer my books in digital form and have been spending much less time at bookstores. A friend of mine carries her Kindle with her at all times, so she’ll browse bookstores, and then if she sees something she likes, she’ll stand there and download it. Wouldn’t it be better for the bookstore if we purchased books from them instead of Amazon? The kiosk idea is a good one.

    I still buy some books in bookstores, especially anything heavily illustrated or books that aren’t yet available in ebook form. Although I will admit also that I am finding myself less inclined to buy books not available as ebooks. (Hear that, publishers?)

  19. 19
    Owen says:

    Now that Barnes & Noble has set up its ebook store, you can actually have the experience of buying an ebook in the store and supporting them for helping you discover it … so long as you have their e-reader app.  This is an interesting aspect of the B&N ebook store strategy that I haven’t seen discussed much.  How much leverage will their in-store browsing experience have when it comes to ebook sales, I wonder?  Will they start aggressively promoting the fact that you can do this once the Plastic Logic reader finally rolls out next year?

    In any case, it’s still B&N, and their ebooks are in their proprietary format.  I’d much rather support an independent bookstore that sold ePub books.  Indiebound needs to be all over this!

  20. 20
    Kalen Hughes says:

    … so long as you have their e-reader app

    Which makes this an epic fail for me. I want to be able to use the book reader I already own.

  21. 21
    Owen says:

    Which makes this an epic fail for me. I want to be able to use the book reader I already own.

    I totally agree.  Would love to see B&N use ePub so that customers could choose their own e-reader.  Sigh.

  22. 22
    Nevermind says:

    I browse and if I find a book I want, I take a picture. Then later I browse online for a cheaper price. More than once I have been asked to stop or even leave the store.

  23. 23
    Yeah, and then says:

    I see really cute flash drives all the time. Why couldn’t you have specially designed ones to tie into your book or series? Like, for Harlequin if they were doing a theme month for nascar, then it would look like a little car with the Harlequin logo on it.

    It would be a way to buy an ebook without needing a kiosk, and it should be able to have the content moved onto your device. It would be proof you bought something in case it got corrupted.

  24. 24
    tracykitn says:

    If I could buy them in the bookstore, I might buy an ereader just so I could buy digital books. Even if it was just, like, a coupon-code that I paid for at the register and then entered into my computer at home to download the book from the store website. I love going to bookstores (and really want to open one; my hometown doesn’t have one—we have to drive about 45 minutes to get to the nearest B&N) because I like to flip through and get an idea of the book before committing to buying. But there are always more books that I want than I can afford; I even have a little notebook that I carry with me so I can list ones I want, and cross off ones I buy (needless to say, the list grows longer rather than shorter!)

  25. 25

    Borders is working on that.  They have certain stores that have a digital kiosk in the middle of the store, usually where customer service was.  The plan is to allow customers to come in, pick the music or audio books or ebooks you want and download them to your device/CD/memory card.

    I haven’t been to one yet (the only one in Florida is in Panama Beach), but I love the idea.

    I do go to the real bookstores, but only buy what isn’t available in eRead format.  I agree that it is difficult to shop online, so I shop in the brick and mortar store, buy for download.

  26. 26
    Casi Nerina says:

    I like the smell and the feel of books, so even though I don’t shop a whole lot in bookstores any more, sometimes I go just for that smell.  New books smell different from old books you know? 

    I do the same thing though, I go to look at books and then go buy them online.  We don’t have an independent in my home town, but we have a B&N which lets you sit there and read books, which is kind of nice. 

    I think it is conceivably replicable online – start by using the iTunes interface for books (which Calibre already incorporates) online, so I can see a list, just the covers, or the flip album if I want.  Then make it sortable and arrangeable in different ways – author, title, publication date, genre, format(s) available (hard or e), series, “If you like

    you should try …” lists complied by professionals and other readers alike, it should be able to implement multiple of these at once. 

    Your account should also store the information you’ve already looked at – then say “You bought A, B, and C, would you like D?” by author, genre, series, or the “If you like … try …” lists.  That would make it even more interactive than the bookstore.  My local B&N employees knew me (at least before I moved to Korea) on sight if not by name, and they could recommend stuff for me, but I recommended stuff to them too.  This way we could get recommendations from lots of different sources. 

    Another way to do it is to provide discussions or links to them (say to living social for example) or to offer discussion groups about various books and authors like a wiki right on the site.  So we browse it we can see reviews, but we can also see what people are still arguing about and even have news right there of the author’s next books, the series or more. 

    Sorry, this topic really gets to me.  I’m a technophile as well as a bibliophile

Comments are closed.

↑ Back to Top