Every time I walk into Barnes and Nobel these days it seems like there are more and more toys/games and fewer books. Is it sad that when I need a Valentine's Day card the first place I think to go is Barnes and Nobel?
I can't say I'm totally complaining about the current state of bookstores. They are trying to sell the geeky strategy games like Settlers of Catan. I love geeky board games (I collect them) so it's kind of validating for me to see that my geekiness is, in fact, trendy and cool.
But I do feel bad for the people that run bookstore giants like Barnes and Nobel. It has to be depressing going to work every day knowing your company is on life support. It brings to mind Blockbuster's amazing press line: "Our company is doing fine, we're just shutting all our stores down." Uhhh.... I guess admitting to the fact that your business model is no longer sustainable makes stocks crash?
The problem is not the commodity. Books have never before been in such high demand. The problem is how the commodity is being sold. There are simply so many options for reading material out there that it is impossible for any one physical location to keep enough stock that will cater to everyone's tastes.
But it doesn't change the fact that people still like to shop. The future is not one where everything is delivered to your doorstep. Humans are social creatures and going out to buy things feels like an event or a productive way to spend the day. The tricky part is that people are no longer satisfied with buying whatever the stores have in stock. The click of a few mouse buttons and you can search the entire planet for exactly what you had in mind.
Which means that the commodities that people are not willing to compromise on will be absorbed by things they are willing to compromise on such as food. Places like Starbucks will become the new bookstores. Coffee shops are already profitable because they sell a product at a huge markup that people can't buy online. Yes, you can buy coffee online. But you can't buy a "hang out" spot. The fact that coffee would still be the main product means that there's no pressure to stock every book, merely some books.