Today, a simple statement of the obvious: it’s not the books, it’s the experience.
I know I’m saying nothing new here, but sometimes obvious things need stating to wake us up, so I’ll spell it out: today, people can buy books anywhere; and in a world where books can be bought online or at the supermarket, bookshops are superfluous. Like coffee shops. I mean, who in their right mind is going to pay £1.95 — or whatever the price is at your favourite café — for a coffee when they could make one at home for 10p?
But they do.
Because what they’re buying isn’t the coffee, which is gone in a moment, their money quite literally flushed away just a few minutes later: they’re buying the experience.
It’s an experience that Amazon, Eden and their ilk will never be able to match; yet they thrive whilst we go into decline. We have a product that — for the price of three or four coffees — people can keep for ever. But whilst they’ll spend their money on coffee and cakes that are gone in a moment — products that they know don’t represent value for money compared to the price they’d pay if they ate and drank the same things at home — they’re reluctant to spend their money in our shops. When it comes to books, apparently, the home experience is better.
The shops that survive will be the shops that see this and change — not into coffee shops (though I’m sure having a coffee shop helps), but into shops that offer the same sort of buzz. Shops that deliver more than a product that can be bought anywhere but an experience that makes the product price irrelevant.
No: bookshops are — or should be — no more superfluous than coffee shops. But it’s our call to communicate that to our customers. Has your shop got what it takes? Have you? And if you have — what’s your formula?