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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Bookstores as Internet Cafes

Who better than speculative fiction authors and a few romantics with their heads in the stars (and the warp drive) to set the world to rights?

So, I thought I'd start a discussion.

Have you ever seen a problem, and had an idea for a fix, but no one to tell? Moreover, your idea wouldn't fit into any science fiction or fantasy work you have in progress? If so, please comment.

Bricks and Mortar Chain Bookstores

I'd like to sort out the bricks and mortar book chain stores, such as Barnes and Noble, Borders Books, and others. They've become glorified warehouses with a few comfy chairs, a coffeeshop, and soft toys and confectionery.

While it isn't impossible to find any book that ought to be in stock, many books might as well not be there. They're at ankle level, or you get a crick in your neck looking up; they're spine out and jammed together. If they're autographed, no one can tell.

A booklover has to know what he or she wants before he or she goes there, and the chances of being distracted or frustrated and leaving without buying are quite high, unless there is a major sale going on.

For everyday browsing, my local library is much more welcoming. At least, I'm allowed to use the computers to help me find what I'm looking for.


Barnes and Noble, Chapters.Indigo.ca, Amazon (not that Amazon counts), Borders. Books-A-Million all have websites and online stores. Some offer book clubs. Some offer discussions and forums and book-related social networking. Some are well done, and some are not very easy to navigate.

The only problem with buying a book on the internet is that you have to wait until and while it ships, and you may have to pay postage (and even tax). The advantage of your local chain bookstore is that you don't pay postage, you get your book immediately as long as it is in stock, and you can read as much of it as you wish to make sure you've a good chance of enjoying it.

So here is what I envisage as the future of chain bookstores:

Barnes and Noble (et alia) as a book-related internet cafe! (Warehouse attached).

I foresee lots of chained-down, but free-to-use computers all around the perimeter, and in a central reservation, too. I mean LOTS!

Booklovers would go to a comfy captain's chair, log in with their Barnes and Noble card number (or not), check their own emails (because we all do, don't we?), then migrate to the B&N bookclub and bookstore online...

Or, they'd simply type in the name of their favorite author, or the title of the book they want, and call up covers, back cover blurb, first chapter, last page, author's blog, author's website, author's booklist, book-trailers, reviews... all that useful stuff.

Of course, this could be done from home, too, in the same way that we can buy a flash drive at a compelling price online from Circuit City, then drive fifteen miles to the nearest participating store to pick it up.

Books could be sorted by subgenre. Award-winning, humorous futuristic Romances with plus-size psychic heroines (such as Insufficient Mating Material) could be virtually "shelved" in all six categories.

Book store patrons would choose, click, discover where the book was shelved (or else, they'd order it from the comfort of where they were sitting and a bookseller would fetch it from the stacks and have it waiting at checkout), pay online, then maybe finish their beverage, check their email again; pick up their purchase, and leave.

Local authors might take advantage of the facilities and actually write in the bookstores. (And be available to autograph books on site). Virtual signings could be a snap.

Anyone with a power outage or ISP downtime (or unpaid cable bill) could use the bookstore computers. What a service!

It could take book related social networking to a new level. What do you think?

What's your beef? And what's your solution?

Rowena Cherry

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