I asked because I saw a eReads article about digital book kiosks in physical bookstores, an idea I would LOVE to see.
I’ve been thinking a great deal lately about how I shop for books, what I look for when I go buy a book, and I realized, I seek a specific title when I go make a purchase. I haven’t browsed a romance section in a bookstore in a very, very long time. Yet I have a very difficult time when I browse online bookstores, and even with the best of recommendations, the best of purchase history suggestions, and the reviews all over the internet, I still sometimes miss that experience of seeing the bookcase of romance spread out in front of me, of discovering something surprising. Even when I went into a bookstore with a list of, say, 2 or 3, I’d end up buying maybe one extra, if the budget and time allowed.
I confess: I am one of those annoying people who likes to see everything on the buffet before starting at the beginning to make my selections.
But because I read digital books, I have learned to shop differently. In other words, I don’t browse as often, if at all. While I like the freedom to shop wherever I am, even at 10:30pm in my pajamas on my couch, I miss the experience of shopping without a specific product in mind in front of a selection of unknown books I can pick up, look at, and try. The physical browsing experience is very different from the virtual one, and I’m not sure it is possible to replicate the randomness of being among bookshelves. As fast as my internet connection is, I’m faster in a physical bookstore picking up and looking at physical books one by one. In other words, even with recommendations, user data, keywords, and metadata refining the choices I look at in digital stores, there is value in bookstores, one that I wish could more easily welcome the digital shopper.
I am aware that with the nook and nook Color, Barnes and Noble shoppers can browse physical books and buy them in the store using the BN wifi – one reason why I wish the nook and the nook Color worked for me. Also, I know that Canadian bookstores like Chapters and Indigo allow readers to buy Kobo ebooks inside the stores. I suppose this is one more question to ask when considering a digital reader: do you want to be able to shop in a physical bookstore but buy digitally? Then get a nook or shop with Kobo in Canada! Heh.
But the larger questions of how I shop still make me ponder and I wonder if I am alone in noticing the change in my shopping habits. Have other digital shoppers learned other ways to browse or simply do less of it? Do they shop like I do, based on recommendation or hunting a specific book online? Is there anyone else who, like me, misses the serendipity of discovery in a bookstore, but feels like a douchebagel shopping in a physical store then going home to download online?
I don’t think the way we shop that leads to the discovery of new books has changed irrevocably, and I do think it’s possible to get digital book readers back into physical bookstores. Digital shopping options in physical bookstores would rock my world because they’d allow a store to reclaim and build more communities of reading customers while also engaging in fun and PROFIT (yay, profit!). We’d just have to be welcomed there, somehow.
Some folks on Twitter expressed doubt that digital book readers would want to go to physical bookstores, that the convenience of shopping any time without going outside in the cold would be much preferable to the experience of browsing an endless bookshelf or doing any live interaction with other book customers. Others said they’d love to shop in a store – and experience the chance to chat with other customers perhaps – and buy digital books knowing that the store they shopped in profited from their purchase. As much as the random and inefficient bookstore search for something to read can be daunting in a well-populated romance section, sometimes I, and it seems other people, miss the browsing.
Curious about the logistics of installing kiosks, figuring out customer service and streamlining all the methods through which to load content on various readers (Time yet again for another round of… Where’s My Venture Capitalist?™) I went hunting for any other retail outlet that adopted digital sales of its product in the physical store. I couldn’t find one. Would music stores, for example, be in a more robust position if there had been in-store downloads? With DRM and individual devices that weren’t wireless, perhaps not – but with wireless reading devices, a person could conceivably be able to load content from inside a bookstore on a number of devices, and not just the nooks in the BN stores.
On a larger scale, with increasing numbers of Facebook connections and users, and a whole mess of different niche networks online devoted to books, is it possible to also recreate physical connection (heh) with real people while browsing in a store? Do we, in short, still want to talk to actual people? In the discussion about Borders and bookstores, many people had suggestions as to what brings them to a physical bookstore. Would digital buying options make that more likely?
I’m still questioning whether my book shopping habits have changed irrevocably, or whether I would browse in a physical bookstore’s romance section without feeling like a complete heel for then buying digital copies, such as from Amazon or from an Indie’s online Google bookstore.
(Note: I talk about shopping and whatnot in this entry, but I also want to point out that this operation could conceivably work in libraries, too: browse physical, borrow digital.)
So, let me ask you, with a simple poll (above), and, if you like, in the comments: would you like to shop for digital books in a physical store? Or is that idea just not of interest to you?