Monday, February 12, 2007

Brick and mortar e-music & bookstores

I’ve sometimes conducted my web surfing and electronic communications from an independent bookstore, Lord help them, but I feel guilty about it because I never buy anything besides coffee and a pastry.

The last time I moved, I’d accumulated far too many shelves and boxes’ worth of volumes to deal with, and I got to the point of deciding half of them had to go. Either they got read by then or didn’t, but I wasn’t going to move them again, except to the bins in back of the library.

The mad magazine and newspaper reading I used to do (and the Mad Magazine reading, too,) has also been replaced by making the rounds of numerous favored sites, and then a large number of the sites the first ones point me to, work up a lather, repeat as necessary.

There’s so much to read there, such linkical overabundance, you feel as if you never have time for more than a taste of it all. Why buy more of it on paper, which you'll then have to carry back out your door?

So what’s a indie bookstore owner to do? Being so cybernetic, I naturally turned to the idea of suggesting they adapt to, you might say “co-opt,” the competition, that being the electronic distribution of “content.” (Ick -- can’t stand that word, but it is so damnably accurate and convenient, if empty and bland; in fact, the term itself is devoid of content.)
I just had my first encounter a couple weeks back with a Starbucks/Hear Music store in Miami Beach, one of seven in the country, begun in mid 2005. I bought my sister a new Jeff Beck album with singer Imogen Heap and carried it out, which was pretty good considering that they didn’t have it in stock. But they did, of course – in the database.

A resident Starbuckian introduced me to the system, where we just did a search for the album and poured it into a CD, I handed over about 13 bucks and walked out with the disc. They said it was full audio, not MP3s, and it comes in a generic though classy case, with a tiny, maybe 1” square cutout of the album cover.

Imagine, as if CDs weren’t already small-enough canvasses for the once-glorious medium of album cover art. But it’s still pretty cool to combine the vast storage of digital choices with the ability to walk out of a store with something new in your hand. One hopes a little more generous helping of the visuals could be worked out with the rights holders.

The bookstore business is essentially about selling information organized into ideas and products for consumption. How about making the store a destination where people can lounge around in the contemporary fashion, wirelessly connected, sipping on downloads and highly customized digital offerings?

What can a store offer that a downloader can't get at home, at least in the same way?
• wide-angle viewing of visual media
• a (semi-)professionally produced product, for show and tell with their friends
• community
• coffee (not their same old grind,) and snacks

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