We read a lot about the wobbly state of highstreet booksellers these days, as it seems that ebooks and ereaders are in the process of killing off all such paper book sellers around the world. In an interesting post in his blog (The Digital Reader – Link below) Nate discusses the opening of a new Super Book store in Taiwan, and suggests that by adapting their business model, book shops can survive perfectly well into the future.
This post interested me as during my time in Beijing I found a number of huge book stores that were doing a roaring trade in paper books, and I gather from friends in Beijing that this is still the case, in spite of the very real advance of ereaders in the People’s Republic.
One such store, which is at the beginning of Wangfujing street (One of the main shopping streets of Beijing) typifies this for me. It is a huge shop, some five floors and a basement, filled to bursting with every sort of book, in a wide range of languages and is always teeming with people of all ages and classes.
I loved wandering around in that store, watching people standing around, sitting on the floor and generally taking their ease, but all with their noses deep in a book of one sort or another.
Obviously the idea is that people buy the books, and don’t read them in the store, but no one seemed to worry about the hordes who were reading in the shop.. seemed to be encouraged to a point, as long as enough people actually bought the books they were sampling so happily there.
To see a kid of about 9 years old squatting next to an ancient beside the book shelves, both deeply engrossed in the books they were sampling was something that gave me enormous pleasure every time I was in that store, and confirmed for me what I already knew, which is that in China, at least, reading is seen as a good thing, and much encouraged by the powers that be in every way.
Unlike the store in Taiwan, these book shops don’t seem to feel the need to add cafes and other attractions to their stock in trade, but simply rely on the attraction of the books themselves. But in other cultures, I can well see the sense in adding cafes, comfortable sitting places and other extras to attract customers into the shop.
Later, living in Cebu in the Philippines, I noticed that the few book stores that are there, tended to also have coffee houses in them, for the same reasons that the one in Taiwan (with the noticeable exception of the seriously named National Book Shop, which was staunchly old fashioned in layout and approach). But all the serious book stores did have a coffee shop at least, so I imagine that we will see more of this approach in the future as book sellers fight back against the tidal wave of online ebook sellers that is steadily stealing their customers away.
Lets face it, buying from Amazon on line is convenient, but not pleasant or relaxing… To be able to wander gently along the book shelves, pulling out books at random, finally finding one we want to read and then buying it and then being able to sit down in the store with a good cup of coffee and start to read the book…. What could be better?
So, personally I firmly believe that after a major bump in their road, book sellers, both big and small will change their business model and turn themselves into a friendly and comfortable mix of book shop and cafe, a bit like the original coffee houses in London in the 17th Century.. A place to meet, read, find books and generally be relaxed and peaceful.. what the Dutch call Gezelig and the Germans call Gemutlisch.
Link to Nate’s Post: http://www.the-digital-reader.com/
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What is your view on this? Will coffee houses in book shops save our book shops or not?