Lest anyone think I'm anti-printed books or anti-bookstore, I'd like to pass on some positive news about the traditional publishing world. James Patterson, mega-successful traditional author, is giving out a million dollars in small grants to bookstores:
NPR: JAMES PATTERSON GIVES
This is not only a nice thing to do, it's smart business. It's good publicity and undoubtedly will create some good will with his sellers. It's unlikely to do anything to directly to help his income, but it sends the right message, which is that traditional book authors (and publishers) need bookstores to prosper. Hopefully others in the traditional industry will get the message and likewise chip in.
While Amazon is currently the big bad wolf threatening indies, the truth is small bookstores have been under assault for many decades. First by big retailers, like Walmart and Target and then by the giant bookstore chains. Frankly the big publishers always quickly aligned with their competitors, even as they align with Amazon now.
Regardless of where the latest threat is coming from, these bookstores simply have to adapt to the marketplace. They can't compete directly on price, so they have to compete on service by offering value to customers. In my own experience, there are wonderful indy bookstores that seem inviting and seductively fun the minute you walk in. I don't mind paying more for a book in that situation or buying expensive gifts, trinkets or coffee if they offer it. But some indy bookstores are simply terrible. Very over priced, unhappy staff, small inventory and often a bias against genre writing (sci-fi in the back, please). I don't think the world is going to miss those kinds of stores. The good news is the fewer bad ones, the better off the good ones will be. The more positive experiences people have when they walk into a bookstore, the more likely it is they'll walk in again.
But even the most amazingly run bookstore is going to have a tough time of it. Small businesses are just very difficult to keep above water. No one opens a bookstore to get rich, and that's a good thing, because they aren't likely to. Indy bookstores (even the bad ones) are usually an act of love for books and for the community they reside in. So it's a very nice thing Patterson did. Hopefully the big five will follow his example and also do more to support small bookstores.
Back to self-publishing, as Hugh Howey recently pointed out, the real goal is to get more people to read for pleasure. I believe as the ebook and self-publishing market grows, more people will begin reading for pleasure and that provides opportunities for bookstores, as well as challenges.