John Blake at the Bookseller Blog laments over ebook sales cannibalizing hardback sales, what he calls “real books,” in the stores:

The idea of simultaneously publishing an exciting new title both as a hardback and as an e-book seems totally crazy. If only publishers could publish the book as a hardback initially, then put out the e-book some months later, bookshops would be given a sporting chance to stay in business, and the dizzying decline of book sales could almost certainly be slowed.

I was fascinated to discover that serious readers—people who buy more than 12 books a year—are fast becoming the keenest e-book customers. These, surely, are the very people who would wish to purchase hardbacks rather than waiting months for an e-book edition.

Obviously Blake considers ebooks inferior to hardbacks—an attitude that many of his blog’s commenters clearly disagreed with—and seems to think he’s found a way for bookstores to survive, namely, by holding back the increasingly more popular ebook to prop up the decreasingly popular hardback, which he sees as the way to save the bookstore.

As usual, everyone is ignoring the obvious: Selling ebooks at the bookstore. The idea is hardly new, and it only requires a store to have an online presence for its walk-in customers. Hardback books can serve as “display models,” allowing customers to get a look at the contents. Then they can whip out their favorite reading device and buy the book from the store’s portal, or pay for the book at the cashier and have the staff email the file to them.

This way, you can sell both products at the store, whichever customers prefer… and since many of us have no interest in buying hardbacks at any price, despite Blake’s obvious disbelief in such an idea, it means more selling opportunities for the store. I know it would give me a reason to go back, as I haven’t bought a printed book in years, and have less and less of a reason to go into a bookstore (the last two times I went, I came out with music CDs… no books).

Barnes & Noble is a good example of this practice, allowing customers to buy via their in-store portal (though ebooks don’t usually come out at the same time as printed books yet, simultaneous releases are starting to happen with many books).  Put simply, it’s a practice every store ought to be applying, which will simultaneously allow them to trim down to more sustainable sizes to befit the modern era of bookselling.

Or they can continue to try to block progress, and see where that gets them.

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