Why bookstores matter

I happen to be a technology aficionado. I believe strongly that eBooks are the wave of the future. They're better for the environment; they offer advantages such as hyperlinking that books cannot, they're cheaper than physical books; in the not too distant future they'll be able to offer advantages such as animation, sound, and video. The only thing keeping me from buying an eReader like the Kindle right now is the cost. But despite the many benefits offered by eBooks, there will always be a need for bookstores.

About sixty percent of the books I choose to read I learn about through reviews. Unfortunately, that means I miss a lot of great books. As it is now, only a small portion of the books published get reviewed. With newspapers and magazines reducing or cutting their book sections, there is even less chance for readers to learn about new books. That's where the bookstore comes in. The other forty percent of the books I read I discover by browsing my local bookstore.

No online site can compete with the browsing experience that a bookstore offers. I am first attracted to the title and cover. Next I'll read the back cover and the publisher's description of what the book is about. Then I'll leaf through the book. If I'm interested in the book, then I'll look at the price. Anything over say $24 and I'll put the book down and get it from the library. All of this takes me about one to two minutes. Then I'm on to the next book. It's a lot harder to do this with an eBook and an online site.

The best bookstores for browsing are those that group books by fiction and nonfiction. Borders wins the browsing experience hands down over Barnes & Noble. I can go into Borders and immediately find all the new nonfiction titles. The same is true for biographies and nonfiction paperbacks. In a Barnes & Noble store you have to go all over the store to find what you're looking for, which means that they lose a lot of sales.

New authors are often advised that getting into bookstores is not that important. I disagree. Having your book on the shelf may make the difference between getting the sale or not getting it. I experienced this recently with my book 35 Miles From Shore. The book tells the true story of a 1970 airliner that ditched in the Caribbean Sea. When US Airways Flight 1549 ditched in the Hudson interest in my book took off. This was due in part because of interviews I did immediately after the accident. My Amazon sales ranking went as low as 2,000. But I had very few books in bookstores. So not only did I miss the casual browser who could have discovered my book, but I also lost many sales from people who went looking for the book but passed when they learned that they would have to order it.

A bookstore is a destination. As long as they keep prices reasonable and make it easy to browse, I'll keep coming.

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