The Bookstore of the Future

Future Bookstore

Image by 4-6, licensed under Creative Commons.

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You might think there’s no future at all for bookstores, especially since, as you read this, it’s a good guess another independent bookshop is shuttering its doors. But the folks at Canada’s Quill & Quire magazine (May 2009) are dreaming big and holding out hope. At their bookstore of the future, books will be manufactured in-house on a print-on-demand machine.

The Internet, often cast as the antagonist in the story of literature’s demise, will still play a crucial role in the operation, with the store’s multifunctional website serving as the entry point for customers. But the brick-and-mortar world will be where the real magic happens: “In the store itself, patrons will browse the website, searching for what they want and sampling content, thumb through display copies, chat with the staff, and then select their purchases. … The bookshop will download a file from the publisher’s website, print it … and immediately hand it over to the happy customer.”

This “new bookselling paradigm” will avoid the waste of overprinting, a common industry practice, as well as the expense of shipping and storing large book inventories. It will cut out middlemen such as printers and distributors. And it will have pluses for both consumers and creators of books: Readers can choose a preferred cover or otherwise customize their selection, and some authors may be able to bypass publishers entirely.

Creating a new business model won’t be easy, the magazine acknowledges. But it’s necessary if bookstores are to avoid the fate so often predicted for them.

“The bookshop can and should be more exciting than ever,” writes Quill & Quire. “If reinvented with sufficient passion, imagination, and cooperation, it will become the preferred venue for readers to navigate our information-rich world, and for authors and publishers to reach their audiences.”