End Of Days For Bookstores? Not If They Can Help It There was a time, not so long ago, when chain bookstores had a pretty bad rep. But in the era of online buying and the e-book, the chains are in trouble -- and new technologies are providing independent bookstores with a lifeline.
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End Of Days For Bookstores? Not If They Can Help It

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End Of Days For Bookstores? Not If They Can Help It

End Of Days For Bookstores? Not If They Can Help It

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We're going to report next on the future of the bookstore. The basic brick-and- mortar bookstore has been in trouble for years.


Let's do a quick review of the last couple of decades. First, independent bookstores were hammered by chains like Barnes and Noble.

GONYEA: Then stores like Costco moved in with their own book sections.

INSKEEP: Next, Amazon and other retailers sold books online.

GONYEA: Some people wonder how long it will be before the e-book supplants the traditional kind. As we begin a series on books today, NPR's Lynn Neary reports that even the big chains are in trouble.

LYNN NEARY: There was a time not so long ago when bookstore chains had a pretty bad rep. They were seen as predators, eager to pounce on and destroy the neighborhood bookstore. But independent bookstores owners Rebecca Fitting and Jessica Stockton Bagnulo say that image is out of date.

REBECCA FITTING: That story kind of got stuck in people's heads. That was the only story that people, especially like in media, could think about, could wrap their heads around, was like, oh, isn't it sad that all the independent bookstores and dying and they're being destroyed by the chains?

JESSICA STOCKTON BAGNULO: 'Cause people love a sob story.

NEARY: They note the neighborhood they moved into, Fort Green, wanted a bookstore and that local support has proven to be invaluable.

FITTING: Unidentified People: Good morning.

FITTING: Are you ready for story time?

NEARY: The store has lots of regular events, like Saturday morning story time and author readings. But on any day it attracts people like Fort Green resident Roxanne Powell.

ROXANNE POWELL: It's good to have it here and to see it flourishing. I'm even feeling like, you know, I have to stop going to Barnes and Noble and support my local bookstore.

NEARY: Fitting and Bagnulo know that a delicate combination of factors has to come together to make a neighborhood bookstore succeed. But they believe this could be a good time for stores like theirs. Fitting says the chains belong to another era.

FITTING: I kind of feel like we're, like, sort of coming to the end of the age of dinosaurs and there's all these little warm-blooded mammals running around instead.

NEARY: Bagnulo sees the chain's woes, and the recent news that Google is entering the e-book market, as something of an opportunity.

STOCKTON BAGNULO: The potential's for there to be two trends, for this sort of digital content, which is just sort of ubiquitous and everywhere, and then towards the sort of local boutique, curated side. And the chain stores, unfortunately, don't have the advantage in either of those areas. I mean, they can't carry every book in the entire world in their store but they also don't necessarily have the same, you know, emotional connection to their neighborhood that a local store does.

ELAINE PETROCELLI: It's really hard for me to be sympathetic to the chains.

NEARY: The most recent threat to bookstores like Petrocelli's is the emergence of the e-book and Amazon's dominance of the market with its e-reader, the Kindle. So Petrocelli was heartened by the news that Google will make it possible for independent bookstores to sell e-books from their websites.

PETROCELLI: I think it gives us a chance. I don't think that it's a panacea, but I do think it gives us a chance.

NEARY: Are you worried about e-books and what they mean for stores like yours in the not-too-distant future?

PETROCELLI: I think it's a challenge and I think that's why it's so great that we can now sell them. I think that it's possible that the Kindle could turn into the Betamax - that's my nasty wish - because they won't share with other people. You need to buy your book through Amazon in order to use your Kindle. All of the other readers, you can work with the Google editions. And so I think that's going to be the coming thing.

NEARY: Petrocelli might be surprised to hear that the chairman of Barnes and Noble, the very chain that once threatened her business, thinks they have something in common.

LEN RIGGIO: I think the biggest threat to Barnes and Noble is the same threat that exists to independent booksellers and to anyone engaged in the sale of printed books. And it's all about the Internet itself.

NEARY: But as important as the Nook is to Barnes and Noble, Riggio says the strategy for the future is to be device agnostic, because the potential market is huge.

RIGGIO: We really don't care if someone has an iPhone, because you can read Barnes and Noble e-books on your iPhone, you can read Barnes and Noble books on your iPad or you BlackBerry. So we don't consider the other devices to be competitive, and we may very well sell some of those devices in our stores.

NEARY: So the sale of the devices will support the sale of traditional books?

RIGGIO: Yes, absolutely.

NEARY: Still, he says this is an exciting time to be in the business and he's anything but downbeat about his company's future.

RIGGIO: It's pretty heady times and we don't know where it's going to turn out. But if you want to count up the people who are going to have a say in how it does turn out, put us in as one of them.

NEARY: And what about the independents? Will they have a say as well? Or will they just become precious reminders of a time when most people read books made of paper? Not a chance, says Elaine Petrocelli.

PETROCELLI: I don't think we're going to become precious. I think we're going to be a vital part of the future but we're going to have to keep growing and changing.

NEARY: Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington.


GONYEA: Unidentified Woman: It's a way to get involved with the book other than just reading the book and then you're done there, you have to just wait for the next book to get out(ph). You get involved in the website and you stay pretty much in touch with the characters and it's like you know the characters when you read the book. You feel like you actually know those characters.

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