E-commerce has been a challenge to the traditional bookselling business, in recent years. But as NPR's Lynn Neary reports, bookstores can still depend on holiday shoppers to go for that reliable, old technology - print on paper.

LYNN NEARY, BYLINE: Steve Bercu has been in the book business for 40 years. His store, Bookpeople in Austin, Texas, has survived the threat of big chains, the competition from Amazon, and now is weathering the popularity of e-books. These days, Bercu says, bookstores that are still standing have a loyal following.

STEVE BERCU: People choose to come to this store, to do their Christmas shopping on a regular basis. It's a place you can bring your family. It does not have the overwhelming intensity of a shopping mall. It's a single store. And it's just part of the season here, in Austin.

NEARY: The holidays, says Bercu, are definitely the season for hardcovers. Any other time of the year, you might settle for a paperback, or prefer the convenience of an e-book. But at this time of year, customers are looking for something special, for someone special - that novel that won an award, the biography everyone is talking about, those glossy coffee-table books filled with beautiful photos and artwork.

DANIEL GOLDIN: Anything that anyone has ever thought of, as a coffee-table book, pretty much only works as a coffee-table book. I can't imagine anybody is going to put their - any kind of e-reader on the coffee table, and hope people look at it.

NEARY: Daniel Goldin, of Boswell Book Co. in Milwaukee, agrees that e-books are no threat to that Christmas present standby. But Goldin says art and photography books aren't doing that well at his store, this year. This holiday season, Goldin says, cookbooks are the new coffee-table book.

GOLDIN: And I don't mean cheap cookbooks. I mean, the equivalent price point of a book at $60, say, that we can't really do well with an art book. But for a cookbook, we can really sell it well. And we know that people aren't particularly cooking out of those books, so it's the equivalent experience. It's people buy the book to show off the book, to enjoy the book; maybe to make something.

NEARY: Goldin does think that some hardcover books require a harder sell. Customers have to be persuaded that a physical book has a value that can't be found in an e-book.

GOLDIN: I think the key is to convince them that this is one that's a keeper. And we'll make a case for that. We'll kind of have a customer weigh a book - like, put it in their hands and say, look at the quality of this paper. That book won't be yellowed, and it won't be brittle. That book will look great in 10, 20 years.

JESSICA STOCKTON BAGNULO: I think the smarter publishers are realizing that the way that the physical book matters, is in the design of it.

NEARY: Jessica Stockton Bagnulo, of the Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn. She says her store has started a First Editions Club, for customers who want to build their own collection of books that will last.

BAGNULO: It works a little like a wine of the month or a chocolate of the month club. You sign up for a six-month or a 12-month subscription. And then the booksellers at Greenlight will select new titles - fiction or nonfiction - that they think are great, and might be valuable in the long term. And subscribers get a first edition of that book, signed by the author.

NEARY: But booksellers aren't taking any chances. They know lots of people have an e-reader on their Christmas list. So hundreds of independent bookstores have signed up to sell Kobo e-readers and e-books this Christmas, right along with all those hardcovers.

Lynn Neary NPR News Washington.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.