The significant increase in popularity of online bookstores over the last decade has had a monumental impact on offline bookstores, covering all facets of their business. Online bookstores offer a number of advantages over physical stores; these physical stores have tried to counteract these advantages by capitalising on areas in which online stores are unable to compete.
Convenience and variety are two of the main advantages of online bookstores. From the comfort of a consumer’s home, they are free to browse selections of thousands of books from a variety of sources. It is also incredibly easy to compare directly prices from different retailers to find the best deals. In recent years, a rising trend in physical bookstores is a section of the store which is dedicated to special offers. These often take the form of a wide variety of books, usually between one to five years since initial publication, marked as being special offers with the use of stickers. These offers usually attempt to entice the buyer into purchasing more than one book, through offering any consumer who has purchased one stickered book another stickered book free of charge, or for a minimal fee (sometimes as low as £1). This is an effective way of selling more than one book, as the consumer may not want to buy only one book from the selection and feel that they have missed out on a good deal.
Many online bookstores provide advanced search functions on their websites, allowing the consumer to search for specific authors or publishers. The majority of printed books are assigned an International Standard Book Number (ISBN) which can also be used to search online not only for a specific book but also a specific edition of the book. Physical bookstores usually categorise books alphabetically, making searching for numerous books by the same author quick and convenient also. However, physical bookstores tend to prioritise and promote only the most recent editions of many books. The aesthetic of a front cover of a book is also important in physical stores. As more and more books are adapted into feature films, many publishers release editions of the corresponding book with film-like covers, featuring images of settings and well-known Hollywood stars from the film. Whilst these editions are just as readily available online as offline, their covers are commonly made prominent in physical bookstores, in the hope that consumers are attracted to the designs and thus drawn to these books. Older or alternate editions of classic novels such as The Hobbit, the source of a recent trilogy of films, can be found in online bookstores, usually with no particular emphasis on the film tie-in edition of the book.
Another trend which has impacted upon both online and physical bookstores is the increasing popularity of e-books and e-readers. Users can either purchase books instantly from the e-reader itself or from the retailer’s own website. The e-book is then automatically downloaded the next time the user’s device is connected to the internet. Whilst browsing selections of books has been quick and easy for a number of years online, the only way to find, purchase and read a book instantaneously has been in a physical store. However, the advent of e-readers has also made this entire process almost instantaneous from anywhere with an internet connection. This further adds to the convenience for the consumer, impacting upon the appeal of physical bookstores.
A number of physical stores have responded to this trend. Two large retailers in the UK, WH Smith and Waterstones, have both begun selling e-readers in their own stores. Many of their stores also provide an opportunity for the consumer to test out the various models available through the use of display units. These are particularly convenient for people who are not confident with new technology. These people may also not have purchased the devices online for the same reason. Having physical items in the store allows all consumers to test and buy the devices in confidence. Many bookstores dedicate a whole section of the shop to e-readers. These areas often include accessories alongside the devices themselves, including cases, chargers and lights for night-time reading. Again, having these as physical products ensures that the consumer can find the desired size, shape and aesthetic that they would like to customise their device.
Additionally, e-readers and e-books have had a significant impact on the sales of physical books. Research by Bowker has found that in the UK, between 2010-2012, the percentage of all book sales which were e-books has risen from 26% to 37%. Whilst this undoubtedly signifies a drop in physical book purchases, Bowker also found that following the electronic publication of Roger Hargreaves’ Mr Men series of books, sales of the print versions rose by 35% in the six months following.
Children’s books in general are one area in which offline stores capitalise on the advantages of a physical shopping space. Many physical bookstores offer a brightly coloured, attractive children’s area, where children and parents can browse a large selection of children’s books. Some also include bean bags or comfy areas, and even paper and crayons for colouring. Furthermore, these areas often include related themed items such as soft toys next to their corresponding books, such as The Gruffalo. These areas will likely attract the attention of young children more than a picture on a computer screen. Sales of items to accompany books may well also increase when placed next to the text.
There are also other ways in which physical bookstores take advantage of their nature by hosting events such as book signings. At a time where many books written or endorsed by celebrities are very common, and often dominate the sales charts, many stores offer consumers the chance to meet and have books signed by the celebrities themselves. Such events as these are obviously impossible for an online bookstore to match.
Another technological development which has had an impact on bookstores is Print On Demand (POD) machines. In the last few years, POD machines have become commonplace in many bookstores across North America. These machines allow the consumer to request specific texts, which are then printed to order in the form of a paperback book. This gives stores an outlet by which they can distribute many rare or even out of print books and consumers another method of receiving books in a very short space of time. These machines are becoming more popular across the world; there are now two Espresso Book Machines (one of the leading POD brands) in London.
Online bookstores and e-readers have had a monumental impact on offline stores. The focus of physical stores has shifted as a result of the increased necessity to attract customers against the backdrop of quick and convenient online shopping. However, the advancements of the internet over the last decade can, and have been embraced by physical bookstores. The fact that many stores now stock e-readers perhaps indicates that a symbiotic relationship can exist between both online/offline bookstores, as well as physical/electronic books.
Author Bio: Joseph Makey is an aspiring writer from the South East of England. Joseph’s interests include reading and visiting the theatre. Joseph regularly writes on behalf of Oldroyd Books.