Bookshops could charge for browsing. Stunned? And then laughter? Or maybe a ‘what the hell’ thing? You’re not alone. That was my first and initial reaction when I read about this idea thrown forward by Victoria Barnsley. And the C.E.O of HarperCollins, one of the Big 5 to boot. Apparently, Victoria Barnsley thinks that the physical bookshop’s existence is the biggest question that publishers feel at the moment. She’s more or less right and I do agree with her to some degree. However, her remedy is not at all correct. You can’t expect a potential buyer to pay up a fee just for browsing. And if in the rare case, pay to browse bookshops did exist, it would mean the true death of bookshops and push the customers towards online retailing.
Rather, what Ms Barnsley should take notice of, is how Foyles is trying to reinvent itself. The last few weeks have seen Foyles hosting crowd-sourcing workshops to get new ideas and feedback as to how it can survive in an digital world. The problem is how geared books are towards online retailing. They are compact, inexpensive and can be transported relatively quickly. Amazon realised this early on and now it is reaping the results of its foresight, even if we may decry its growing power.
So what can be done? In the near future, a day might come when there are no bookshops in the world, and everything is done digitally. Or there might come a day when publishers choose to put all their eggs in the bookstores basket and cut ties with Amazon. Perhaps they could elect to have a single, uniform platform solely run by themselves, even. Lastly, bookshops reinvent themselves and become centres where both print and digital books can be sold painlessly and hassle free, whilst having the best of both worlds.