With the rise of e-readers and the fall of Borders, the fate of physical bookstores is at a crossroads. On one hand, e-books are more eco-friendly, cheaper, and convenient. At the same time, there’s just something about the feel of a book, and by extension, browsing through bookstore shelves.
Earlier this week, I went to happy hour with a friend at Kramerbooks, in Washington, DC. Yes, you heard right. I went to happy hour at a bookstore, which also functions as a cafe, bar, and live music venue.
The business model at Kramerbooks is something that I believe would work well in maintaining the relevance of independent bookstores. While the bookstore itself isn’t as large as a chain bookstore, the selection is well-cultivated. The booksellers are knowledgeable (I had a conversation with one about Margaret Atwood and Ursula K. LeGuin), and one gets a wholly different experience than one does buying books on the internet. Meanwhile, the cafe and bar make going to the bookstore a social occasion. Sure, other bookstores host readings and have a community focus, but having a cafe and bar makes it so easy to stay later, relax, and browse. Furthermore, they increase revenue at a time when most bookstores are in dire financial trouble.
As someone who recently got a Kindle, I’m convinced of the fact that e-books are here to stay. At the same time, I don’t think that they will ever entirely replace physical books. I am of the opinion that if publishers worked a bit on the appearance and feel of paperbacks, perhaps by using nicer papers and a variety of unique cover art, that people will still continue to buy and collect them. However, in a time when e-books are accessible instantaneously, bookstores need to continue to provide an experience that one can’t find in the virtual world.