25 September 08 | Chad W. Post

Earlier this week Joe Wikert completed his six-part series of posts (this links to the final piece, which has links to the first five parts) about how brick-and-mortar bookstores could better compete with online retailers (aka Amazon.com).

Taken as a whole, I’m not sure his suggestions would necessarily fix all the struggles of traditional bookstores, but some of these are really worth considering.

One of the suggestions I like is about creating a Chacha sort of website for answers about books that customers could access from kiosks in the store. (And outside of the store as well.) That would be a pretty cool way of getting info about books—especially more technical or travel guide-ish titles—and would address some of the bookselling issues at the chain stores.

Not to pick on the two big chains (though it’s obvious that’s who Wikert has in mind with this suggestion), but it’s as evident as a late-season Mets collapse that most employees at B&N and Borders are more “clerk” than “bookseller.” (This is something I plan on writing a long piece about either tomorrow or next week, since it ties into my ideas about the gulf between publishers and readers.) When I worked at independent bookstores (including Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, which is praised in the comments section of the first post in Wikert’s series) the staff knew more about books than almost anyone I’ve met since. The group knowledge was unbelievable, and the books I found out about from my colleagues affected the rest of my life and career.

But it’s true that this isn’t the norm anymore. (Though it is at a number of indie stores.) And Wikert’s suggested site would be a cool resource.

Not so sure about his idea for a loyalty program (sounds a lot like an idea from the case study on Harrah’s casinos I read for business school last year), and the idea about selling used copies along with new is actually a practice that can be found at a number of independent stores, including Third Place, which is one of the greatest stores in the country.

The big drawback of this series is that it’s not looking at bookstores as a whole, it’s really only considering how B&N and Borders can compete with Amazon. So a host of issues/challenges are left out entirely.

That said, the last suggestion of widgets and browser add-ons is pretty interesting. And something that IndieBound could easily do for its members . . .


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