I have to admit to doing a bad, bad thing. You see I go and visit local bookshops, browse the shelves to find books I like, and then I buy them online. Every time I do it I feel guilty, like I’ve taken something from the local bookshop. But at the end of the day I keep returning to my guilty habit because the bookshop shelves make for a better browsing experience than the online bookstores – but buying online is so much cheaper than buying in the bookshop. And of course in the bookshop I can’t buy an ebook, which is what I mostly buy these days.
When Australian bookshops bring down their prices to competitive levels and make it easy for me to buy an ebook through them I’ll breathe a sigh of relief. In the meantime it’s interesting to see the venerable Co-op Bookshop dabbling in these waters with a virtual bookshop printed on the walls of their Macquarie University shop (as reported by ZDNet).
In a way seeing this begs the question why they can’t achieve the same end with a straight online bookshop or a printed catalogue with QR-codes. At least Woolworths recent foray into virtual shopping was based in a train station rather than on the walls of a store. But I think that misses the dynamic involved in visiting a bookshop and browsing for books. I’d love a scenario where I could go to a bookshop, browse the shelves and then buy an ebook of the tomes that catch my eye just by pointing my iPhone at the book. I know that seems a bit counter-intuitive, and would raise the ire of those who insist the only real book is one printed on a dead tree, but the shopping experience of browsing and finding books is, for me at least, quite different to the way I buy groceries. I need to scan long shelves of books, I need covers to catch my eye, I need to pick up the book and quickly read the back or a couple of pages at the beginning – the online experience just can’t replicate that for me. But once I’ve found a book I either want it as an ebook or I want it at an internationally competitive price – or both.
So it’s good to see local shops like the Co-op dabbling in other ways of presenting the book-shopping experience. I just hope that we’ll see some even more innovative approaches before my sense of guilt gets out of control.