Bookselling isn’t considered frontier technology too often. The moniker is reserved for the likes of Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Autonomous Cars and Machine Learning. The science fiction stuff.
Note: Storytelling is at the front of some of these advances - VR experiences need a narrative, characters etc. But this is about bookshops not stories - it being Independent Bookshop Week.
Where do bookshops fit in frontier technology?
The long game stuff (VR etc.) is years away but as we get closer to that reality there are more immediate changes, smaller seismic shifts as industries adapt. (See Music, TV and Film, Advertising.)
E-commerce now has over twenty years of growth and shows no sign of slowing; and bookselling was there at the beginning (Amazon) - yet physical retailers have survived, and found growth too.
UK bookshops saw 4% growth in 2016 - while their online offerings remained stagnant. E-commerce only sites (Amazon etc.) saw growth of 1% - 32% of total physical book sales
As e-commerce begins to threaten physical retail spaces, where fixed costs and falling revenues lead to larger stores with centralised buying power, how we buy books has begun to change. We buy differently depending on where we are: choosing a book from an independent bookshop to a high-street chain, and then over to a supermarket, we don’t buy identical titles from different shelves.
As markets develop and change ahead of mammoth larger shifts, the value we place on choice, in curation, on community and in wanting to flick the pages to smell the ink will keep bookshops around a while longer.
What could Augmented Reality mean for readers?
Writing about #IBW2017 got me thinking … what would an augmented / mixed reality book lover want to see?
Okay - if you see a book someone else is reading you can order it with a blink, or read the first chapter.
You’re at a party and a Harry Potter fan says hi, you can see that they’re Slytherin and act accordingly. (Run you fool, run and don’t look back.)
See what person at the bar is currently reading, or what they rated on Goodreads, act accordingly (They loved Good Immigrant? Go love them. No seriously - that would be an excellent meet cute.)
If you’re walking by an area featured in books (based on your reading preferences) you can read the extract as you’re nearby. Even quote it at others.
See the spine of a book and read the blurb without having to remove it from the shelf. (Or watch the book trailer. Or see recommendations of other titles like it.)
Go celebrate Independent Bookshop Week and visit your local bookseller: they stock Isaac Asimov, I promise they’re at the frontier of technology.