Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Pay To Browse?

An article hit this week at The Bookseller talking about the possibility of bookstores charging their patrons to browse their stock. Supposedly, the idea is being floated around as a way for bookstores to stay afloat as they compete against Amazon and other cheap e-distributors.

David Tennant is baffled by your illogic.
As a bookshelver, may I just say that this is one of the stupidest things I've ever heard.

Are you kidding me? Can you imagine going to a bookstore and having to pay a buck just to walk through the doors?

Gosh, looks like physical bookstores really are a relic if we're going to start treating them like museums, complete with admission prices.

"Hi, welcome to World o' Books! Let's see, that's two adult tickets, two child tickets, and one under-two? Come in and look, but make sure not to touch the artifacts!"

A large percentage of our customers come from browsers. They may come in with one book in mind, but they'll leave with several more. Kids are the best at this. Mom might come in to buy a birthday present for a friend, but the whole clan will leave with a book apiece. Kids are always picking up a book that catches their eye, and most parents are squeamish about saying no to "educational" pursuits. But do you really think Mom will take the brood with her if she's charged entry? Do you really think Gramma and Grampa will take the grandkids for a fun weekend trip to the bookstore if they're charged by the head?

As a buyer, browsing how I find many of my books. Some of my best discoveries come when I don't have a precise goal in mind. Rather than provide a way to compete with Amazon, a browsing charge would drive even more customers into the arms of e-stores. Heck, I wouldn't pay to go browse, and I need books like I need air.

"Let them!" you might say. "I'll browse at the library and only go in to buy." Good luck with that. It might work for a little while, but guess what? If bookstores see a big drop in patronage, they'll buy fewer books. The fewer physical books bought in a bookstore, the less incentive publishers have to print physical books. They'll turn to e-books instead. Why not? They're cheaper. And what do libraries stock? Yep, physical books. It might take some time, but if bookstores pull out, they affect all carriers of physical books, even those backed (however grudgingly) by the government.

And even if this idea of paying to browse were economically sound (which is laughable even to type, because it's so not), how is it in any way practically enforceable? Would you charge people to come in the door? What about the guy who just wants to buy a cup of your Starbucks-knockoff coffee? Or the grandmother who wants to pick up the book she put on hold for her granddaughter's birthday? Will you make them sign a contract pledging that they will conclude their business and leave without browsing? Or will you follow them around the store to make sure they don't sneak a peek?

I know this is just a daydream being floated around by scared booksellers, but the fact that such a crazy scheme is even being voiced makes me shake my head in wonderment. Stop it, frightened book people. Yes, the future is scary. Yes, the ever-changing market requires innovation and ingenuity. But if you choose to pursue such crazy, short-sighted schemes as charging customers to look, it won't be Amazon that drives you out of business. It will be you.

I'm finished kicking this idea in the teeth. It's your turn. Chime in with your opinions/thoughts/feelings in the comments below.