Can an Online Bookstore Be a Community Bookstore?
Is the frequently drawn distinction between online bookstores (efficient, convenient, innovative) and traditional bookstores (old-fashioned, communal, curated) a false one? This fall, Molly Gaudry and her fellow staff at The Lit Pub are trying to prove that it is.
Billing itself as “an online bookstore that hand-picks and recommends books,” The Lit Pub was founded earlier this year and has recently relaunched with an effusion of bookish joy. (“From our hearts to yours!”) The site features staff-written reviews of select books and literary magazines, as well as a prominently displayed honor roll of publishers whose books it offers. Since many of these publishers are themselves small independent outfits, there’s a strong spirit of mutual support at work in the enterprise. A detailed explanation of the Pub’s business model is available on their FAQ page.
I’m intrigued by The Lit Pub as a business venture, a social experiment, and just possibly, as the start of a reverse trend within the bookselling industry. I’ve noticed that tight-knit online social groups—be they regular commenters on a forum or regular players of a game—tend to converge toward real-world meetups and activities. If The Lit Pub is truly successful in forging bonds among staff, customers, and even business partners, I wonder whether Gaudry and company won’t someday try to supplement their online presence with a brick-and-mortar operation somewhere. In other words, whether a new model for indie booksellers might be to build up communities on the Web, then entice a portion of them offline—rather than the other way around. (Of course this is pure speculation on my part, but still, isn’t the possibility embedded in the new site’s name? Mightn’t a literary pub eventually want to offer some tables, chairs, and pints of Guinness along with the books?)
UPDATE 6:15 PM: In an exchange via email, Molly Gaudry confirms that brick-and-mortar is a possibility that’s been hovering in the back of her mind: “We’re not ruling it out, anyway.” For now, she says, The Lit Pub is focused on the challenge of finding their footing online, where they face as much competition from Amazon as any other indie bookstore. Still, if they ever do open a physical location, it would far surpass my modest vision: “I’ve been dreaming about one day fixing up an old roller skating rink. I’d like the outer walls to be bookshelves with sliding ladders that go up to an upstairs loft filled with tables and couches, coffee shop style. In the downstairs snack bar area, we’d turn that into an actual bar. There would be books everywhere. And roller skating….And author events, etc. It’s a weird daydream.” Maybe so, but on the other hand, if you’re hoping to reinvent the bookstore, why not the roller rink too?