In early May, Book Riot Executive Editor Bethanne Patrick kicked off this new feature; last week author and bookseller Erin McHugh took the baton, writing about sidelines. This week, development entrepreneur Kathy Meis considers the things bricks-and-mortar bookstores get right about discoverability.
As a tech entrepreneur trying to address the challenges of online book discovery, I think a lot about the bookstore of the future. Funny thing, though, not much of my thinking has to do with technology. Perhaps that’s because I’ve spent most of my career as a writer, or because I understand that technology is the engine for the experience, and not the experience itself.
Mostly, I think about local bookstores and what happens there between books and readers. There’s a slew of data showing that people still discover most of their books in the real world, even if they buy them online. Why is that? It’s certainly not convenient. What is it about real world book discovery that readers find so compelling? I have a couple of theories. Each suggests that the online bookstore of the future will continue to be highly efficient, convenient and offer competitive prices, but will also embrace some timeless attributes of the local bookstore.
Bookstores in the physical world are quiet. Here’s how a blogger recently described one online retailer’s shopping experience: “I feel like am being assaulted by an infomercial for some unneeded and undesired product that shows at 2 a.m. on local TV.” This certainly doesn’t sound like a pleasant place to hang out, browse or discover new books. Do not underestimate the power of quiet as a haven from today’s fast-paced, hyper-connected world. Quiet is necessary for the reader to explore, absorb and connect fully with book content. Online retail screens cluttered with flashing ads, multiple recommendations, and other attempts to sell more content, disrupt the magic of the reader-meets-book moment. The sell, sell, sell approach is a mistake. The online bookstore of the future will be quiet again.
Local bookstores curate and organize collections, yet foster serendipity. In other words, even as booksellers narrow readers’ selection, they expand the possibility that they’ll discover new books they’ll love. Booksellers get rid of the clutter without destroying discovery. That’s a valuable skill, and less counterintuitive than it seems. In today’s content saturated world, data shows that online algorithms and recommendation engines just aren’t cutting it with readers. Not only are these auto-generated suggestions often off the mark, but they shortchange the browsing experience and limit the opportunity for serendipity. Like quiet, the importance of serendipity should not be underestimated. The delight that a reader experiences when they stumble upon something unexpected and wonderful is addictive.
Successful models for social curation and consumer customization are emerging in other online retail sectors. A perfect example is the highly successful Fab.com. Online book retailers need to take note. The online bookstore of the future will experiment with models for social and expert curation as well as customization. The online bookstore of the future will remove the noise and give readers room to explore freely in a curated and customized environment.
Finally, if there is one thing that the success of the new social site Pinterest has taught us, it is that elegant visual design now counts on the web. That’s where the technology comes into play. Technologist who grasp the qualities necessary to enchant readers with unique discovery experiences and couple those experiences with beautiful user interfaces will not only capture the hearts and minds of readers, but they’ll sell more goods as well. Efficient, convenient and competitive, yes, but in a nod to the much loved local booksellers of today, the online bookstore of the future will also be quiet, curated, serendipitous, social and beautifully designed. And just for the record, I’m betting new models will emerge for bookstores in the physical world as well. Perhaps I can share my ideas on that in a future blog post. Until then, let me know what you think about my online bookstore of the future.
Kathy Meis is a writer and editor as well as the founder of Serendipite Studios, creators of the new social book discovery platform Bublish. To learn about how Bublish will change how writers share their stories and readers find books they’ll love, visit Bublish.com. You can also sign up there for updates and a beta invite. Bublish will launch this summer.