Design Your Own Bookstore

by Libby Sternberg

Borders is gone, and Barnes & Noble is struggling. The book world keens. book_banner

Remember the days when these big-box bookstores were the subject of the same kind of criticism leveled at Amazon today? They were too big, too cookie-cutter, too impersonal, too greedy, too…whatever. Reacting, at least in part, to the rise of these mega-bookstores, the American Booksellers Association began Book Sense, a loose organization of independent booksellers who joined together for promotions and other marketing activities. Book Sense eventually morphed into IndieBound.

Personally, I don’t care whether a bookstore is big-box or small indie, as long as it’s good. So, what constitutes a “good” bookstore?  How would I design the perfect (for me) bookstore if I were as rich as Croesus?

Below are elements of what my Perfect Bookstore would look like. Before I begin, let me state the obvious: bricks-and-mortar bookstores, in order to be successful, have to find ways to compete with the online book-buying experience. I believe they can. But they won’t do it by trying to guilt customers away from online buying. Online purchases are a way of life. Don’t fight that. Join it. Think what makes online purchasing such a draw–depth of inventory and convenience–and what would complement that draw.


Size: It would be big, as big as the megastores.  Most Barnes & Nobles now have the footprint I like.

Offerings: It’s a bookstore. Books would be the primary products. They’d be the first thing you see when you come in the door. Not wrapping paper, CDs, DVDs, digital readers, a cafe or calendars. In-store coupons would provide generous incentives to browsers to keep coming back to the bricks-and-mortar store.

Other stuff: Despite the note above, my store would still offer CDs, DVDs, wrapping paper, goo-gaws, book-related merchandise, calendars, and a cafe. These are big revenue producers. And even I like to browse through these areas in bookstores.

Digital and POD: This is a crucial part of the new Perfect Bookstore, part of what will take the online experience and make it “more so.”  Currently, going into a bricks-and-mortar store can often mean not finding the book you want on the shelves. However, bookstores can lure the online purchaser into their stores to browse, to buy, if they also offer a superlative online buying experience. Somewhere in the store, there would be a corner devoted to online buys, digital offerings and POD books. Maybe several computer/tablet/digital reader stations?  My Perfect Bookstore would offer discount coupon codes at the entry to this area of the store for anyone buying this content AT THE STORE.  As to Print-on-Demand…my Perfect Bookstore would work with publishers to ensure that many books would be available this way, so that the customer looking for a read that’s not cost-effective to keep stocked in inventory can still get it quickly and easily…at a bookstore.

The Cafe: First rule: no print books in this section unless you’ve bought them. Second rule: you should be encouraged to keep browsing in the cafe…for books. Most tables should include a digital reader and/or other device that allows readers to sample books and then use an in-store coupon to buy digital material right there in the cafe.

Staff: The staff all have to be book lovers/readers. “Staff picks” should be promoted for all book areas and large displays would showcase the staff’s preferences. But here’s a qualifier: my Perfect Bookstore would require staff to choose favorites from independent authors and/or publishers. Readers already know James Patterson/Lee Childs/Michael Connelly/Nora Roberts/Jodi Picoult and all those fabulous best selling authors. And, they can pick up reviews of the latest Big Five literary gems. What readers can’t do is sort through the growing number of indie offerings and decide what’s best. At my Perfect Bookstore, staff would have to choose favorites from indies to help guide readers to what’s best in the indie field. (As an aside, one of my pet peeves with Book Sense was that it seemed to promote the same Big Five books I could get at big-box stores for less money.)

That’s all I have for now! But the goal of my Perfect Bookstore would be: to make the bookstore experience so enticing and so valuable that readers would hesitate before making an online purchase at home, thinking to themselves, “Hmm, maybe I should check out what Perfect Bookstore has to offer first.”

Send me your ideas for what your perfect bookstore would look like!


Libby Sternberg is a novelist and freelance writer and editor.



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2 responses to “Design Your Own Bookstore

  1. Daniel Crandall

    My bookstore would look much like yours. One of my favorites was The Tattered Cover Bookstore located across from Cherry Creek Mall in Denver. that store is no more after losing a lease I believe. Tattered Cover now has three (I think) outlets throughout the greater Denver area.

    The Tattered Cover that I like had all that you describe above PLUS a restaurant atop the four story building in which it was located. It was, appropriately enough, called “The Fourth Story” – a nice play on words. One could enjoy a nice meal or have a drink at that bar while reading the purchases one made. One could even read & buy a book from the small bookshelves that were around the tables or ask the bartender to hand you a title from behind the bar. I learned a little about Scotch that way.

    So my ideal bookstore would have, in addition to a coffee, tea, and assorted snacks type cafe, an associated full service bar.

  2. Oh, I love that idea — of the full-service bar in a bookstore!

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