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?