Bookstores As Innovators

“Do you sell iPads here?”

I was asked this question at least a half dozen times during my various stints as a bookseller. It always puzzled me in its consistency. Does a small, independent bookstore seem like a place that would sell Apple products? 

Reflecting back, however, it's not so far-fetched. We tend to think of the print book as having been around forever, but their widespread accessibility is fairly recent, coming about only with the advent of the printing press. The truth is that books and printers have always stretched the limits of technology and over the past decade or so, bookstores have fought declining sales with creativity.

We tend to think of the print book as having been around forever, but their widespread accessibility is fairly recent

Books To Go

One innovation that has recently surfaced is the Espresso Book Machine, which allows stores to print books on site at the point of sale by turning PDFs into physical paperback books. The first Espresso machine was implemented at the World Bank InfoShop in Washington, D.C. in 2006. Parisian booksellers Librairie des Puf are now using this technology to make 2,000 formerly out-of-print titles available. 

The benefits of such a device are numerous; bookstore owners don't need as much floor space, and it puts independents in more direct competition with online retailers by offering immediate access to a much wider array of titles. Particularly for bookstores servicing universities and other schools, it presents an easy way to provide text books. Unfortunately, the price of an Espresso Book Machine is still quite high, and there aren't too many of them worldwide as of yet.

A Place For Ideas

A great bookstore is a hub for the community; a place that draws people together over words and ideas. Books, after all, have always been more about ideas than the physical binding that they're printed on. As a result of the perceived divide between digital and traditional formats, a number of innovators have taken steps to stitch the two worlds together.

The Pigeonhole, launched by Random House employee Anna Jean Hughes and partner Jacob Cockcroft, bills itself as a “book club in your pocket.” Its purpose is to capitalize on the trend towards serialized books, allowing readers to share comments and interact with the authors. There's also Bookindy, a Google Chrome extension that takes your Amazon search and shows you the best place to purchase the same title for less at an independent store.


Have you seen any wonderful bookstore innovations lately that the world should hear about? Let us know in the comments!

Header image by Maximilian Schönherr

Image of Rebel Bookseller: Why Indie Bookstores Represent Everything You Want to Fight for from Free Speech to Buying Local to Building Communities
Author: Andrew Laties
Price: $16.95
Publisher: Seven Stories Press (2011)
Binding: Paperback, 336 pages
Leah Dearborn

Column by Leah Dearborn

Leah Dearborn is a bibliophile and bookseller from the frigid North Shore of Massachusetts. A graduate of the journalism program at UMass Amherst, she spends her spare time blogging about books (of course), history, politics, and events in the Boston area. Occasionally, she spits out something resembling fiction, and has previously served as a contributor to Steampunk Magazine. She collects typewriters and old novels and laments the fact that her personal library has outgrown her apartment.

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