The other day I stepped into the local Chapters because I had some time to kill between buses. I shouldn’t have because I’m a bit broke at the moment and the place is a terrible money sink, but I did anyways. Besides, I had my eye on something.
So I wandered around, feeling a little strange and hypocritical with my iPad nestled in my purse. No point looking at paperbacks, as I have no doubt that I will never buy one again. The magazines had some interesting bits, and I ended up with two of those, Writer’s Digest and ImagineFX (one to inform writing, one to inspire writing). Eventually I don’t want to buy paper copies of magazines at all, but they aren’t quite as far along as e-books yet.
And then I rounded the corner of the magazine racks and headed to the lifestyle section for what I’d really come for in for: a small hourglass filled with tropical blue sand. I’d seen it in the store several times, even played with one, and thought it would be neat and sort of old-fashioned to do timed writing with it instead of a clunky kitchen timer. I finally decided I wanted it.
Any long time readers of my blog (Ha!) might remember a rather snarky post of mine complete with shocking evidence — a display window for Indigo, Chapter’s parent company, that was filled with blankets and dish wear and specialty teas and wasn’t it outrageous that the book, the whole point of the damned store, was barely visible. “See??” I typed self-rightiously. “This is what’s wrong with bookstores these days!”
In retrospect, they were playing the long game, while I was stuck thinking the short game.
My complaints about finding new books, access to titles, and the like have been rendered moot by devices like the iPad, the Kindle and others. The mid-list will likely start picking up and the internet, with sites like GoodReads, will become the primary way for people to discover new writers and books. So if the physical bookstore doesn’t have to concern itself with book selection (not that it often appeared to be beforehand) and if books will increasingly be purchased electronically, what are you then going to sell?
And the smart thing, if you’re playing the long game, is to prepare for it before it happens. WAY before it happens. Get your customer base used to seeing upscale and eclectic items side-by-side with their favorite books and magazines. Get items not available locally, at least in small towns, and cater to a desire to pamper, in the same way that books are often marketed as an affordable comfort. There will always be a place for the high-end hard covers but mass consumption will go digital. And when the paperback market falls away, you have something to take it place.
Years before the eBook market finally gets off the ground and the company was already laying the groundwork. Not that it isn’t iffy to place your bets on luxury items (though I’m sure they weren’t expecting in the economic bubble and it’s after effects) but it has to look like it’s the only solid lifeline for the physical component of their companies once the bulk of their wares goes digital.
So I take it back, Chapters. You had me fooled. I was all about the short game, but you were planning ahead. Far ahead. I hope it works for you.
Now, if you don’t mind, I’m off to read more of “Soulless” by Gail Carriger in the Kobo app for my iPad.
(Edit: Pardoning my terrible french…)