Sunday, June 15, 2008

Economic Irony; The Future of the Bookstore

Economic Ironies: "An old man, turned 98..."

If nothing else has proven the insane way we live, driving some 2 hours to get to work each day, consider my own gas bill. I have a gas card that basically has me pay for all the gas I buy during the month all at one time. Which works for me because I only have to worry about one bill. But, naturally, that bill has gone up over the past month. My normal bill, prior to now, was about $190 (which is high anyway) Now, it came up to $300. The irony of this is that this, plus my education loan (which I used to get a Masters in Education, that I don't use right now), now approximately equals my second paycheck. So, basically, two weeks out of the month I am paying for the gas I put into the car. So if I went nowhere all month long, I would only have to work half the time. (Course, it's more complicated than that, but you get the picture.) Now, suppose that you lived within walking distance of your job... there would be no need to spend money to get to work only to make money. I'd be earning almost a whole other paycheck.

The Book Vending Machine

Let's take the bookstore to it's most modern, technological extreme, and save on electricity, space, payroll, rent, shrink...etc... I've talked for ages about having a vending machine that would spit out books that might in a traditional setting be more likely to be lifted (e-bay is seeing a plethora of goods sold for 50% off, but the result is 100% profit.). It would save on payroll because there would be no need for cashiers. But to be fair, people go to a book store for a more personal touch by employees that know their wares.

But technology cannot be ignored. The free market system will demand to save money by streamlining the bookstore into a modern day marriage of paper and machine. So imagine. A bookstore the size of a wireless phone store, with a slightly larger storage area, so say double that, or more. The store itself would be run by 2 or three individuals, who would assist customers on state of the art computer devices that would show books on a virtual bookshelf. The customers could scan through all the books, much like they would real books, or conversely, books on Amazon, and could read a synopsis, the first chapter, see video interviews with the authors, get reviews from other readers, etc... much like does now. But it would take the place of having the actual books on the shelf. At the front of the store would be a display of the most popular and new books, and one register would be available for those transactions. Further, the next level of popular books (delivered each week by truck, and constantly monitored by computer and by corporate people, could be modified easily, would be stored in the storage areas, which would look much like the record centers of doctors offices. Very well alphabetized, organized and computer placed where you would know that XYZ by John Grisham would be in Shelf B, Row C... It could be retreived by a single employee in no time at all, and the customer would have had ample time to know if they actually wanted it or not by the information on the computer.

But what of CD's or DVD's, or Audiobooks? The answer is simple... computers would be equipped with devices that could burn CD's or DVD's with the correct music, video, or audiobook, and it could be purchased at the computer itself. You could burn individual tracks, or download the mp3's to an ipod via usb ports. This would reduce manufacturing prices, reduce theft, and reduce payroll. This is currently being tried at the Borders Concept Stores, at Ann Arbor and elsewhere. And it would take up very little more room than a table or two, which would save on space and the money it takes to maintain it.

Sure, this isn't a library, where books sit on shelves willing to be flipped through, and the bibliophiles that love the smell of dusty tomes will balk at the idea, but it is the best answer for all the problems that the current bookstore is facing.

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