I just listened to a really interesting podcast from 7 February 2013 on BBC Radio 4’s ‘The Bottom Line page about the digital revolution’s impact on the book trade. It featured Jonny Geller (Curtis Brown), Victoria Barnsley (HarperCollins) and Michael Tamblyn (Kobo).
One of the main discussions from this podcast was discussed in an article on The Bookseller‘s website: ‘Barnsley: bookshops could charge for browsing‘
An intriguing concept to consider – paying to browse around a book shop? Barnsley stated in the podcast that Barnes and Noble gave a recent statistic that 40% of their customers merely use the store as a place to browse before going home and ordering what they wanted online. So, in theory charging people to browse would be a great way for a bricks-and-mortar business to benefit in the current revolution where e-retailers rule. I can see how it would be great for bookshops, particularly if in the current economic climate it would be the line between a bookshop staying open or closing down. Certainly, I think the high street needs bookshops, whether they are small independents or national companies such as Waterstones.
I agree with Barnsley in the podcast where she states that we still need physical bookshops to discover. As well as this, I have to admit that I am one of those people who actually enjoys looking around a book shops: the smell of books, the look of crisp and new books and lined up along the shelves, the feeling of being surrounded by some of the greatest written works of all time and the prospect of being surrounded by academic works published by some of the most influential and respected publishers from around the world. The thought of paying to even look around a bookshop is a sad concept.
The Bookseller‘s article points out the fact that only 35% of fiction books in the UK are bought from a physical bookshop. With this pressure on booksellers, Barnsley says that the concept of charging to browse is not such a crazy idea in the current economic climate. Personally I feel that if booksellers have to resort to this in order to survive then they will have to, but I will not deny that it would be a sad day should the day come.