The perfect bookstore

Hey, publishers and booksellers. Let me help you solve all your problems, ’kay? Behold the perfect bookstore:

The problems? You know exactly what they are and obviously you aren’t interested in solving them.

You booksellers have been rolling around on the back of the consignment system like it’s catnip for too long—and it’s still going to bite you in the butt.

You publishers are doing everything you can to stymie ebooks and are determined to cling to your outmoded ways. You can lay off people all you want, but you’re not actually willing to do what it takes. Never fear, though! The economy will help you with that.

Now, in a quaint little town that is a suburb of Kansas City, they have a town square surrounding the 19th-century county courthouse. In one of those slender 19th-century 2-story buildings, there is a mom’n’pop bookstore that has been there for, oh, EVER. The top floor was always for used books, the bottom floor stocked to bursting with books. Then they put in a coffee shop. Last week, we found out they were phasing out the books altogether. Now, I ask you. What is a bookstore without books? It’s not. It’s a coffee shop.

I’ve been thinking about these issues for a long time and shaking my head sadly, wondering how long it’ll take before the consignment system collapses.

Say the above drawing is the bottom floor of the aforementioned 2-story 19th-century storefront on the town square. The 2nd floor could house a coffee shop or used books or books that you wanted to order to keep in stock (and you paid for them up front on a wholesale basis) because you’re a bookseller and you love books and books are a perfectly reasonable thing to have in a bookstore.

But do you see what is going on? A way to be inventory-free, using the just-in-time inventory system that half the rest of the retail industry in the world has been using for going on 15 years now.

You, Random Reader, are a book lover. You want a book you can hold in your hands. You go to Quaint Bookstore and they do not have what you want in their meager stock. NO PROBLEM! You sit down at one of the book stations. You browse the computer catalog (probably Ingram or Baker & Taylor). You pick your book. You punch in your credit card number (tied to the store’s point-of-sale system). The order goes directly to one of the Espresso machines behind you. You wait 10 or 15 minutes (by which time you’ve probably already ordered another 3 books), and out pops your book. You are GOOD TO GO.

Or hey! Maybe you don’t want to wait the 10 to 15 minutes, so you tap into your Quaint Bookstore account from home or work or school and order the book that way. You can pick up your Espresso when you pick up your espresso on the way to or from work or school.

And say you want an e-reading device, but you don’t want to get burned. You go to Quaint Bookstore and you pick up one of their demo devices loaded up with ebooks. You sit go upstairs to get an espresso (heh) and read for a while to see if you like it. If not, go back, pick up another one, and make sure you like what you’re getting. Then you buy it and boom, healthy profit for Quaint Bookstore on an e-reading device (which will probably get the customer back to buy at least 1 print book for every 10 ebooks they read—okay, I made up that number, but still!).

Honestly, I do not know why this has to be difficult. The technology’s there, waiting—no, begging—to be used. The consumers are there and will grow as the economy cycles back up again. With one Espresso machine, Quaint Mom’n’Pop Bookstore could get rid of its book stock, but still be a bookstore.

Did I mention there is a small liberal arts college in this town, too? Can you say “bypass the college bookstore for your textbooks”? Ka-ching.

But you know, I’m not even sure this particular Quaint Mom’n’Pop Bookstore ever heard of an Espresso and probably are afraid of ebooks, and are unwilling to look past the death of the consignment system. (I should probably ask them those questions before I assume things, eh?)

I tell you, the time is (almost) right for a new breed of independent bookseller.

 

73 thoughts on “The perfect bookstore

  • December 7, 2008 at 8:08 pm
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    MoJo if they were smart they would hire you for their bookseller liason so you can whip em into shape!

    With your layout, think of how much they’d cut back on real estate! Bookstores so need to get on board with the Espresso Book Machine. Australia and the libraries on the East coast are already using with much success and with the need to fix them when they break down, oops there’s a new job opening for that specialty!

    I wonder if they’re dragging their feet because they make so much cash and have the upper hand with returns? With this things’ll be a little more leveled out which they may frown upon.

    Regarding your purchase scenario for the Random Reader…oh, to dream. 🙂

    Reply
  • December 7, 2008 at 8:37 pm
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    Well, the truth is those machines are hella expensive and though I do believe it would make its money back, there are other problems associated with it like, as you say, repair issues.

    On the other hand, an enterprising GenY type could spend the next couple of economically down years figuring out how to make the first seriously high-tech POD bookstore.

    With cozy, friendly, touches, of course.

    Reply
  • December 7, 2008 at 8:39 pm
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    hmmmm…I wonder if Mojo had a certain Dude in mind for that project?

    Reply
  • December 7, 2008 at 8:41 pm
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    Mayyyyyybeeeeeeeee…

    Reply
  • December 7, 2008 at 10:52 pm
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    Funny. I saw that pic and thought, oooh! coffee everywhere! Then I realized those were pod bookstations. Maybe you can alternate???

    Reply
  • December 7, 2008 at 11:32 pm
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    Actually Tom is wanting to open up a really trendy coffee shop with smooth jazz and style out the whazzoo, and we were thinking of putting an espresso book machine in.

    We can’t think of much cooler than: 1. Order a book 2. Order a coffee 3. Sit and wait 4. The Barista hand delivers your hot coffee, and book hot off the press.

    Reply
  • December 8, 2008 at 2:19 am
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    I want a bookstore like that.

    And, yes, real espresso would be nice, too. 🙂

    Reply
  • December 8, 2008 at 7:46 am
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    I have to admit, I just kind of whipped that up out of thin air and didn’t give it an in-depth Think.

    Really, I think I’d hide the Espresso machines out of sight in the back (like, in the office or have it behind glass where people could watch if they wanted), have about a third that many stations, set up a coffee bar/waiting area in the downstairs and have the paper bookstore upstairs.

    I’d also:

    1. Offer digital copies of books to be burned onto a CD/DVD if someone wanted that (although I doubt it would be popular).

    2. Possibly burn a CD/DVD when I printed a book and put it in a flap in the back cover of the book.

    3. The Espresso stations would double as download stations for your e-reading device.

    Reply
  • December 8, 2008 at 8:57 am
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    Anyone got seed money to spare?

    Reply
  • December 8, 2008 at 2:28 pm
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    I like the old-fashioned purple-mimeographed look of your sketch. Both aesthetically and because it’s so ironically appropriate for discussing next-gen text-reproduction equipment.

    Reply
  • December 8, 2008 at 3:22 pm
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    Purple Sharpies are da bomb! Plus, it shows up better than pencil (which is my preferred writing tool).

    Reply
  • December 8, 2008 at 5:54 pm
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    This reminds me of the “manga cafe” in Japan, basically a reading room with a cover charge (and cute waitresses). Of course, that’s basically what any B&N is (sans the cute waitresses), and you can camp out all day long and read any book on the shelves for free! (And publishers fret about ebook piracy?) The difference with a manga cafe is that they stock the kind of books that the kind of people who frequent manga cafes really want to read.

    Reply
  • December 8, 2008 at 8:15 pm
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    Yeah, I like the glass case display idea — printing as art/spectacle.

    Reply
  • December 8, 2008 at 8:29 pm
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    Why do I have the urge to go hang out in the lunch room with Mr. Spock? (I always loved how they could stick their little thing in the wall and a tray of colorful Nerf food magically appeared.)

    I think if you include expensive organic goodies with your espresso, some kewl tunes (also for sale), and wi-fi, you’d put Starbucks out of business. For your open mike night, you can have author readings instead of bad folk singers. Hell, as soon as someone leaves me money, I’d invest in you. (Should you be talking like this in public? If they steal your idea, it will be a pisser!) 🙂

    Reply
  • December 8, 2008 at 10:16 pm
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    Eugene, I think there’s this thing called a “library” and used to be a thing called an “internet cafe.” I’m thinking…mashup!!! (Cute waitresses? Hmmm…)

    printing as art/spectacle.

    Now that you say that, it makes me wonder if there should be a section with collectible books. Not antique rare editions, but books of the hardback Harry Potter/Twilight type that are really really pretty and well done. A lot of children’s books are simply works of art by themselves. (Right now I’m thinking Bats at the Library.)

    (Should you be talking like this in public? If they steal your idea, it will be a pisser!)

    Well, really, if someone HASN’T already thought of this, I’d be surprised. If they steal my idea, well, maybe that’ll get me my ideal bookstore faster.

    I read an article (can’t remember where; don’t kill me for not citing) that a dude (bookstore owner, I think) up in Michigan bought an Espresso and it paid for itself in 11 months. He’s buying another one.

    Author open mike night…oh, heaven.

    Would I have better odds of winning the lottery if I bought a ticket?

    Reply
  • December 9, 2008 at 11:11 am
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    the espresso is about 100k isn’t it? (although that was the pre mass production costs — v 2.0 is supposed to be out in 2009) Book production cost is penny a page (toner, paper, electricity, binding glue), sans add-on for EBM owner profit (which must account for high cost of the machine) and publisher costs/profit (editing, acquisition, royalties to authors, etc.). If, eg the EBM owner decided 1 penny a page to address profit/expenses plus the penny a page cost, a 300 page book would cost 6 BEFORE adding in publish costs but, eye pop time, the EBM owner would have to sell 33,333 books at 300 pages each to recoup the cost of the machine (again, the pre-mass production retail on the machine). And that doesn’t cover staff and store space and maintenance on a poor machine that must spit out 33,333 books to pay for itself. 🙁

    And, alas re EBM, they still go through middle-men because someone has to be willing to deal with the licensing of 500,000 plus books _http://dltj.org/article/espresso-print-on-demand/

    I like the idea of a Manga cafe 🙂 Would have only one copy of each, wait until it had been out about 2 months before it went into the cafe section. W/ a separate bookstore section where you could buy new copies without the wait and instead of having coffee, it’d be full of ballz and other favorite drinks of the j-pop variety.

    Reply
  • December 9, 2008 at 12:00 pm
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    Had to rain on my parade, eh, lady? 😉

    Reply
  • December 9, 2008 at 1:12 pm
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    But why does a book have to be a “book”? Much less expensive commercial inkjet printers can match a CPP of around 1 cent. A few more pennies for the spiral binder. In Japan, for example, the typical school textbook is a lightweight, inexpensive, disposable paperback. Not a hardcover boat anchor.

    Reply
  • December 9, 2008 at 1:12 pm
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    i saw the article that ran on U of M getting one, think it is cool, but the current version is HUGE, bigger than my bathroom. I tend to think the trend will go to real books getting very expensive and digital being the norm. Look at all the kids entering college now who have most of their textbooks digital (though not at some great discount). There was a high school somewhere that gave out readers to replace textbooks – kids had to put a deposit (those who could pay) on readers but apparently didn’t have to pay for the books and textbooks didn’t get worn out, science books could be updated more frequently, etc. Ten years, max, and what is taking place in education today will change fiction reading. Of course, other trends are affecting reading, and authors are going to find the need to build multimedia stories as the ereaders evolve. Or pair up with a “co-author” to build the multi-media component.

    Reply
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  • January 6, 2009 at 7:26 pm
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    Brilliant. This is brilliant. I would gladly shop at a store like this … and once I win the lottery, I’ll start one, too!

    Reply
  • January 6, 2009 at 8:31 pm
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    LOL!

    That’s the problem with good ideas. Then you have to FUND them.

    Reply
  • January 14, 2009 at 8:48 pm
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    Hi Mojo,

    I hope you don’t mind if I move this discussion over here from http://www.booksellersblog.com so that it makes sense for people, as it relates to your post.

    I appreciate ideas, and your vision is one that I think many will embrace if and when we get there. And I’m sure there are some retailers that are doing exactly as you describe, throwing their hands up. The truth is that there are many, many players in the industry supply chain– agents, authors, publishers, wholesalers, booksellers — and each of those players has its own “agenda” for lack of better term. Even within each segment, players can have opposing views (i.e., one bookstore wants to buy books nonreturnable, another one refuses to do so. One store wants prices taken off of book jackets, another can’t afford to pay someone to sticker each book so wants the prices to stay on). Then you have publication rights, and contracts that were written before the idea of digital even existed … couple that with concerns over illegal downloading and all of the various platforms and proprietary technology … and what you have is a big mess.

    It’s easy for someone who does not know and understand all the various pieces (and there are few who do; I certainly don’t) to point the finger at any one player and blame them for inaction. The truth is that most people who are in publishing and bookselling do this because they love it, and they are trying to figure out a way to make it work.

    Reply
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  • July 23, 2009 at 2:26 pm
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    @Miracle Jones

    That’s interesting. I’m going to take a while to digest it, because that kind of sort of dovetails with the idea that ebooks are meant to be more than a long flow of text..

    Slightly related, my husband wanted to put my book(s) on a flash drive and sell them that way at the local literary festival that wasn’t.

    Considering there was a big deal at BEA about eARCs being handed out on flash drives, I’m leaning that direction, too.

    Reply
  • July 23, 2009 at 2:41 pm
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    Fantastic ideas. Before I truly reply, I’m in a small south KC suburb, too! Overland Park.

    True, bookstores have to change. I want to see them as more than just portals for booksales though. The reader life is one of shared interest in niche topics. I say, create a community around your re-moded bookstore. Keep the eBook browsing kioks, include the behind the glass Espresso machine, but allow for room to lounge and read (which would make more sense here than at B&N considering that you have to purchase the book before you can read it). Add a cafe, some couches, and throw in the waitresses mentioned above and you’ve got a great set up.

    Reply
  • July 23, 2009 at 2:47 pm
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    You dudes are all about the waitresses! What’s up with that?

    There are so many variations on this, so many things that could/would work; it could be a creative work in itself, for an innovative bookseller.

    Reply
  • July 23, 2009 at 2:48 pm
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    I’m going to repeat the post I made over on Teleread:

    Ha! Didn’t know this would get so much play. That was just me brainstorming one Sunday morning when I had a rogue purple Sharpie and a ruler.

    However, if you want the real genius ideas, scroll down into the comments of the post itself (hint, they’re not my ideas). I’m not dismissing the idea of an old-fashioned bookstore (which I clearly stated would be on the second floor). I’m saying that the bookstore would PURCHASE their inventory outright (MMP/HB), thereby curating according to its customers’ tastes.

    On Twitter this morning, Kat Meyer said something to the effect that with my (admittedly, very rough) model, the bookseller would become a “book concierge,” which I see as a small but affordable luxury.

    Also in the comments just today, there was an interesting variation on the concept of reinventing the bookstore: A Fantasia.

    The opportunity for integrating bookshelves with print books, ebooks, e-reading devices, and POD (you are somewhere; you whip out your iPhone and make an order direct to the local Espresso machine, then pick it up), and food/drink and baubles/shiny things, so a bookstore can become more than a place to sit all day and read a book is just too seductive an idea for me to let go of. It has the possibility of making a local bookshop the community’s Place To Go (especially for casual e-book consumers).

    I am NOT dissing bookstores. I want them to thrive and grow, and I think the way to do that is to exploit every possible area of bookdom.

    Reply
  • July 23, 2009 at 4:48 pm
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    Dude knows where OP is, as Dude got 2 copies of The Proviso into a bookstore there. Dude admits it might be out of place in a “Mystery” bookstore, but it is there.

    Reply
  • July 23, 2009 at 5:27 pm
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    Yes, the Mystery bookstore. Somehow, a genre specific bookstore survives when so many larger stores are failing. Maybe they have a MoJo model at work, and we never knew.

    I like that story, “Who Wants a Mystery” or something like that.

    Reply
  • July 23, 2009 at 5:34 pm
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    It’s on Johnson Drive, just west of the mall.

    I think genre-specific bookstores will always survive and thrive no matter what.

    My personal dream bookstore is a romance bookstore (new books, not so sure about used), shelved in sections of religious/inspirational on one side and erotica on the other side, with everything else in between.

    Romance readers buy books in bulk, and they read cross-genre, but what they want most is a comprehensive selection at a bookstore that won’t sneer at them for their reading choices.

    Reply
  • July 23, 2009 at 7:09 pm
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    Dude promises not to sneer at MoJo.

    Reply
  • July 23, 2009 at 8:00 pm
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    Ah, but what a sad future for book design this would be! The pulp-to-pixels trend may sound good to the genres it serves (e.g. romance), but e-readers and print-on-demand offer little to lovers of gorgeous photography, exquisite illustrations and luscious typography.

    As an art & design fan who fills her home with beautiful objects that often take the form of books, the heady talk of a bookstore without covers to browse and spines to finger is just too depressing to ponder for long.

    Reply
  • July 23, 2009 at 8:10 pm
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    Really, I’m not talking about specialty books. Honest to goodness, I’m not!

    Reply
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  • July 24, 2009 at 7:09 am
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    Dude doesn’t read German.

    Reply
  • July 24, 2009 at 7:44 am
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    As a former bookstore employee, I think the concept has merit. How much does inventory control cost to a store now? The constant replenishing and returning of books already prevents staff from engaging the reader/customer.

    But just wondering, how would espresso books be handled with returns? Most print on demand is non-returnable from publishers, but would that extend to the end user as well?

    Reply
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  • July 24, 2009 at 11:16 am
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    I’ve been intrigued by the Espresso machine since getting a presentation on it a few months ago, and I think it has all the possibilities that are laid out in the blog posting. However, I don’t think that it has to be as extreme a scenario as is being laid out where there is no inventory in a bookstore. In my dream scenario, here’s what would happen:

    1) the makers of Espresso would lower the cost of the machine, or sell the machine on a rent-to-own basis to bookstore owners.

    2) Bookstores would still keep books around (by the way, it’s not exactly a consignment system as a consignment system would be one where the bookstore wouldn’t pay for that inventory) since one of the attractions of indy bookstores is buying a book that the reader doesn’t know that she wants. And handselling is one of the key differences between indy bookstores and chains.

    3) However, besides having books around, bookstores would have the Espresso machine as well as digital e-book sales. This would allow bookstores to compete with the range of inventory that Amazon and lure in the esoteric reader. While Amazon can deliver the esoteric book that’s not stocked in every single indy, they won’t be able to deliver it as quickly as a bookstore that has the Espresso. And in a consumer driven culture, instant gratification matters.

    4) While some brick and mortar bookstores are good about managing inventory, not all stores are. As with all portions of the book industry, there are many idealists and eccentrics in bookstores (as well as in publishing). In this economy and corporate climate, managing inventory and getting rid of unnecessary expenses (such as shipping costs of returns) is key. Bookstores that have a high rate of returns should invest in hiring someone who can watch demand & supply closely to lower returns.

    Reply
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  • July 24, 2009 at 1:49 pm
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    Most print on demand is non-returnable from publishers, but would that extend to the end user as well?

    I think it should. Lulu has a no-returns policy.

    As long as the bookseller makes it very clear that that *is* the policy, then there should be no miscommunication and thus, no problem.

    Reply
  • July 24, 2009 at 1:51 pm
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    Postillion, you make so many excellent points, I’ll just leave it at that.

    Like I said in my Teleread post, this was just me brainstorming one Sunday morning. It wasn’t meant to be definitive. 😉

    Reply
  • July 24, 2009 at 3:15 pm
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    Here’s my problem with your POD vision of the future: not all books are simple rectangular objects like Trade Paperbacks or Mass Market books. Some publishers actually experiment with format. Is this POD machine going to create a Sabuda pop-up? I doubt it.

    I think we will see a growing weariness with the digital. It has its place and is incredibly useful in many parts of our lives, including our reading lives. I would, for instance, much rather carry around an e-reader than two or three biochem textbooks. But, I think the tangible matters. We’re tactile and we like to browse. And collect. And display.

    Books will continue to exist even as the business of distributing and selling them changes.

    Reply
  • July 25, 2009 at 7:20 am
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    Most print on demand is non-returnable from publishers, but would that extend to the end user as well?

    I think it should. Lulu has a no-returns policy.

    As long as the bookseller makes it very clear that that *is* the policy, then there should be no miscommunication and thus, no problem.

    Isn’t the whole concept of Espresso that it is PoD – therefore there shouldn’t be any returns because no copy is printed without there being someone who has already agreed to pay for that copy?

    Reply
  • July 25, 2009 at 7:22 am
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    Yes. That’s the point. 😀

    Reply
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  • July 28, 2009 at 7:48 am
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    I really love your vision for a bookstore. I own a used & antiquarian bookstore, and our books are non-returnable. It can be done. Of course, we can get books for much less than 40% off the cover price, but then again, we can only buy the books that people are selling, not necessarily the ones we want to stock, so it’s a juggling act for us, too.

    I envisioned a bookstore sort of like this in my novel: http://www.lastbookstoreinamerica.com.

    The Espresso machine is pricey right now, but we’ve been pricing new shelving and fixtures for our store, and it can easily run to over $100,000 to bring in new bookcases. Hmmmm….

    Reply
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  • August 19, 2009 at 12:00 am
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    Hey, that’s an idea I had been carrying around for some time. Well, the store doesen’t really need to be empty of any books, does it? The EBM exists, I have seen and tested it. What does not exist yet, at least in non- English language countries, is a large enough available set of books printable under the system. You know: DRM, ebook formats and so on. Wat it needs is a community of potential booksellers to join, create a taskforce to discuss this with publishers ( I am in France, so any Frenchies – welcome !) And this could be running in less than a year….

    Reply
  • August 19, 2009 at 5:01 pm
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    Well, the store doesen’t really need to be empty of any books, does it?

    No, but I thought I made it clear that the second floor would be for that, but apparently I didn’t. 😀

    The store that I wrote about has a very small footprint, so I was more going on the idea that it would be ideal for a storefront of this size.

    Reply
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  • May 30, 2010 at 11:01 am
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    Actually, this doesn’t fully utilize the space. The traditional look of columns and rows would still be better.

    Reply
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  • October 2, 2010 at 8:04 pm
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    I quoted from your blog for a college paper about “strategic Issues faced by indenpendent bookstores”. My high ground is “embrace technology in innovative ways”. You describe innovation here and I’m surprised that you wrote this in 2008. Thank you! I love the idea of e-ordering a book and having it print out. I wonder if the technology is there yet. Fantastic concept you have. Expresso!

    Reply
  • October 7, 2010 at 4:47 pm
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    Kristy, WOW!!! Thank you!!! I’m very flattered. 🙂

    Reply
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