Paradise Lost? An IT Perspective On The Bookstore Model


Once upon a time you could walk into any major bookstore and find a copy of your favorite classic novel, but alas, no more. Calendars and writing journals command more and more shelf space, leaving a shrinking space for the poor, beleaguered book.

I don’t know if you noticed, but the bookstore as we knew it died last year.All hail the revered book store! We knew your time was coming, but we were busy drinking our lattes while reading PolitiFact. We didn’t notice until our teenager had to buy a book for English class and no one had it in stock.

I found myself consoling a friend who works at one of the last mega-bookstores. While many of us heralded the coming of the digital age with gusto, others stood by in horror as the shelf space devoted to books dwindled, making room for Word of the Day calendars. Vast self-help sections became single shelves and the children’s section made more room for train tables and plush toys. The café sells more mocha than Milton and more Neufchatel than news. My son only visits the bookstore because it has a great toy collection. Like that friend, I remember long afternoons sitting in the bookstore thumbing through magazines, computer books, and graphic novels, and daydreaming endlessly in the sci-fi section. But just as happened with me, the bookstore must grow up.

Thanks to print on-demand services, pressure from online competition, and the rise in popularity of tablets and eBooks, these stores were forced to sacrifice shelf space for toys, journals, and food. In order to survive, the bookstore must rapidly become the Content Store. In doing so, they must provide a steady stream of content the consumer is willing to buy, not just be the best (or only) place to buy a book.

Paradise found: cloud as the gateway to unlimited content

Tablets and eReaders are nothing more than conduits to content. Imagine if the stiff, decorated covers that adorn your favorite tome were more than the opening to the same story? Today’s devices are great for watching movies, playing music, and yes, reading books. While they don’t provide the same experience as that well-worn copy of your favorite book, they do more than a weighty stack of frayed pages. Bookstores noticed people still enjoy reading news, watching movies, and listening to music. But thanks to their tablets they can do it anywhere with a web connection. This accessibility presents a golden opportunity for bookstores to become the perfect social hub for the arts and current events.

Like that DVD you see on the shelf? Preview it over the store network and discuss it via social media. Or the store may provide samples of that business book you’ve heard about, perhaps even offer a coupon. In fact, using their cloud services, the chain can offer consumers content that is available only in the store. A creative store could offer services via an app that incents people to come in rather than order online. This special offer only available in-store!

The simplest thing for bookstores to do is print the books themselves. HP made forays into this space with their BookPrep service back in 2009 in an attempt to simplify the lifecycle of the printed word. They interface with print on demand services, making it possible for a bookstore to stock much more than before. Imagine coming back in an hour to buy that out of print copy of Elizabethan Pine Beetle Review. The books are stored securely in a cloud controlled by the publisher, but accessed by the store when needed. Place an order while you eat your cheesecake and take your treasured tome home afterward.

Additionally these stores should cater to students by offering textbook rentals by the hour over the private cloud. Students often study for hours, write term papers, or read novels for school. Imagine discovering you don’t have a text book, or you need supplemental material for your paper. You don’t need an entire book, but being able to rent what you need while in the store could be amazingly convenient. The private nature of the cloud will protect content, something content providers need.

In fact, these same clouds can reduce usage outside of the common backbone by hosting content internal to the store. Through creative content deals these stores could offer media rooms where customers sample movies and buy them on SD media right in the store. It’s as if print on demand meets the video on demand market. One of the many benefits for the store is reduced shelf space needed for traditional media.

To really bring in the customers, a store could hold release parties for new books. Exclusivity deals allow the store to offer the newest eBook from an author as an event. Fans arrive with their tablets and eReaders running apps designed to tap the in-store network. Promotional materials, videos, even coupons can be fed through the app to attendees. At the stroke of midnight the eBook is released simultaneously to everyone without worries the network can’t keep up. The book is being delivered by the private cloud and not the common backbone.

Elastic clouds from the major telecom companies are uniquely positioned to push these networks. Many of them provide the Wi-Fi, equipment, and network needed to handle the requests today. Combined with the right material and a satisfying application experience, these clouds can save the bookstore and make it cool again to say, “I was browsing the titles at the bookstore the other day and…”

Sure, the new books won’t smell the same as the old ones, but that’s because someone in the café just burned your onion bagel. Have some coffee and keep reading the newspaper on your tablet and enjoy the free Wi-Fi.

What titles do you see in the content store of the future? What products and services could be offered that would continue to entice you to stop to the bricks-and-mortar bookseller?
Jeff Morgan Lead Product Marketing Manager AT&T About Jeff