As Borders UK sinks weeping into administration, I found myself wondering: When was the last time I actually bought a book in a physical bookshop? It must have been years ago. These days it's too easy to mouse-click away and then wait a few days for your new possession to arrive.So, e-commerce trumps street-commerce. But it doesn't have to be that way. In the spirit of the Bloke in the Pub Solving the World's Problems, here's what Borders (or whoever's left - Waterstones?) should do.
To start, we should ask how websites have managed to swipe the retail bookshops' lunch with such apparent ease. Here are the 3 killer advantages to shopping online:
- Convenience - just click to buy, no need to leave your chair and travel to a city-centre or out-of-town mall
- Choice - how can a high-street bookshop possibly compete with a range of 5 million or so titles?
- Discovery - the online format is perfect for searching, following "related product" links and stumbling across titles that you wouldn't otherwise have known about
Meanwhile, what's good about the high-street bookshops? Here are the advantages that they still cling to:
- No postage costs
- You get your book right away (assuming the one you want is in stock)
- You can talk to a member of staff (whether it's a knowledgable person is hit-and-miss)
- Social environment
- Physical - nothing quite beats browsing a floor-to-ceiling shelf of titles, picking up a book and thumbing through your potential new tome of knowledge (or of escapism, or whatever)
You would think that those would be quite compelling advantages; but the majority of them don't contribute directly to closing the sale, or discovering new products to buy. So for bookshops to compete with their online counterparts, they could do far worse than address the online advantages. One solution springs to mind: Borders Express.
(Or Waterstones Express, given that it's already too late for Borders in this country).
Amazon beats Waterstones/Borders hands-down for convenience and choice. WaterBorders (as I'll [in]conveniently call them for now) could build a hypermegastore across several floors with a massive choice of titles available. But they still can't possibly compete with Amazon's selection of pretty much every book currently in print (and quite a few that aren't, via their army of resellers). Even Foyles, which used to be considered the bookshop of bookshops, feels like a village shop compared with Amazon.
Rather than whimpering and changing nothing as their marketshare declines, I would love to see Waterstones/Borders/any remaining high-street booksellers go on the offensive.