The Future of Bookstores

Written by  //  October 18, 2012  //  Posts  //  3 Comments

When I talk to people about the impact of ecommerce on traditional retailers, the first reaction I commonly get is that bookstores are going the way of the dodo bird and will be the “first to fall”. I disagree that bookstores will no longer play an important physical role in the future, but I can certainly understand where this sentiment is coming from. First we witnessed the collapse of the independent bookstores at the hands of the national chains, and now we are seeing many of these same larger stores close. Books, like electronics, are a highly comparable commodity which many people are now comfortable purchasing online. That said, I believe bookstores retain a strong emotional link with consumers. As we becoming increasingly connected and time stressed, bookstores offer the potential to play an important social role in communities by providing an oasis of calm and comfort. On some level, many of us are seeking a chance to slow down life, relax, and take a few minutes to collect ourselves. I picture successful bookstores of the future as being smaller, community oriented spaces that are able to leverage these sentiments to build strong social connections with their customer base, while offering a diversified range of products, services and amenities.

I will admit, I was surprised to stumble on the perfect example of the future bookstore – Chat Noir Books – last week while touring around Temiskaming Shores, a relatively small town in northern Ontario. It isn’t that there are no bookstores in my home city of Toronto playing an important role in their local communities, but social networks and consumer patterns in major cities can be so interconnected that trends are often hard to discern. Similarily, it is much easier to predict the sales of a grocery store in rural Iowa than in New York City. After spending some time in Chat Noir Books and talking to local residents, it is clear that the store is playing a valuable and positive role in the community. Conversely, this community role has endeared the bookstore with a loyal customer base, providing financial stability and long term resilience to the increasing inroads of competing online retailers. I chatted with Paul McLaren about the store and some of its defining characteristics that have made it successful.

1 Extensive research prior to launching the store on local market conditions and a business plan refined by multiple experienced advisers.
2 Controlled overhead costs through the purchase of the building.
3 The addition of a cafe serving fair trade coffee.
4 Comfortable seating that encourages customers to linger.
5 Regular events, including musicians and organized board game tournaments.
6 An interior design that provides a unique aesthetic.
7 A really cool selection of books, including many local authors and guidebooks.
8 A diversified product offering beyond just books.
9 An excellent online presence, including a website, blog, twitter feed, facebook page, and YouTube feed.
10 An online bookstore: “Even if you Go Digital. You can Stay Independent!
11 A desire to be technologically innovative – they were the first in town to offer free wifi, and are now looking at Kodak’s On Demand Books system.
12 And most importantly, the store is run by an incredibly friendly and knowledgeable team who express a genuine desire in enhancing the quality of life in their local community.

I am confident that bookstores of the future will continue to play an important physical retail role, and likely will take on a stronger community presence while the larger, more banal, stores die off. Guest author Ray Chetti pulled together some other examples of innovative bookstore concepts from around the world that are reshaping the traditional look, feel, and function of these retailers.

Another Country, Berlin

  • Offers events including a Tuesday night film club, Thursday TV night and a Friday dinner.
  • Board game nights.

The Bookworm, Beijing

  • Acts as a library, bar, restaurant, and event space
  • Variety of programmed events from concerts to an annual literary festival.
  • There is a whisky bar and monthly wine club
  • Serves weekly special set lunch menu, two courses, and soft drink or draught beer

Atlantis Books, Santorini

  • Sunset readings and big dinners are regularly hosted on rooftop terraces of the bookstore. The terrace space acts as a flexible retail and performance space.
  • Hosts cultural happenings and events such as food festivals and film festivals.
  • The bookstore brings kids from local primary school for day long activities.
  • Hold discussion groups about literature and brought artists / writers, and bibliographers around the world together.

Barnes & Noble Boutiques

  • Integrating boutiques of about 200 square feet for specific book publishers (namely Penguin Publishing Co.) and their Nook tablet/reader.
  • Barnes & Nobles is expanding their boutiques to include messenger items and apparel.
  • Expanded areas for toys and educational games (3,000 square feet).

About the Author


Reurbanist is a multi-disciplinary firm that blends land use economics with urban planning and economic development. At its core, Reurbanist believes that great urban places that are compelling and vibrant must find success at both a fiscal and social level. Stronger cities and urban destinations translate into improved job growth, municipal tax revenue, and a higher quality of life for residents.

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