Will Tablet Computers Doom the Bookstore?

Amazon's new Kindle Fire tablet

An alternative newsweekly near Silicon Valley just devoted a special edition to “The Trouble with Tablets.” They noted it’s been just two years since the iPad first appeared in the world, and yet nearly a fifth of all Americans now report that they own a tablet. Amazon’s making tablets even more popular with their new color “Kindle Fire” tablets — and the newsweekly also wondered if this meant still more competition for local bookstores. Their reporter even interviewed the owner of Berkeley’s Pegasus bookstores, who said “What a quaint threat chain stores turned out to be!”

I thought the article offered a fresh look at the “gloom and doom” predictions for the future of printed books — and the people who sell them. For example, the article applauded a new program from Google which allows tablet owners to buy an e-book through the web site of their local bookstore. Unfortunately, there’s not a version of that program for Kindle owners, but even then, judging from the article, most local bookstore owners find that they’re not able to sell many e-books to their customers anyways. “As soon as you figure out a way to let customers know we sell e-books, you let me know,” says the owner of Pegasus.

But there was an interesting idea in the article: maybe bookstores could sell a print book that also included a copy of its e-book edition, as a “bundle”. Bookstore customers “might be drawn to the idea of being able to have a hardcover to read in the bathtub or pass onto their children along with having a discounted, lightweight e-book…” Plus, it would finally give bookstores a sure-fire way to sell e-books.

But I thought this was the most telling story of all: one Berkeley book-seller found an innovative way to survive…by selling their printed books on Amazon. The owner of Moe’s Books has discovered she can sell rare and expensive or “collectible” books through Amazons web site, reaching more customers than she ever could through an exclusively local bookstore.

In fact, 20% of the store’s sales are now happening online!

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