Is a Bookstore Still a Bookstore If it Sells eReaders and Offers POD Books?

HBS-Logo-TransparentBG[1]I’ve seen bookstores do unusual things to remain relevant in a changing world from opening a 3-story cultural center to pimping for ereaders and ebooks sold elsewhere. But this week I learned of  an interesting bit of news that raises the question.

When does a bookstore stop being a bookstore?  How much gadgetry can a store carry (replacing how many books?) before you need to come up with a new term for what a given store is doing?

I think Harvard Book Store is going to be able to answer that question in the not too distant future.

Earlier this week I caught a tweet from the bookseller in which they announced that they were now carrying Kobo ereaders. HBS has signed up with the ABA-Kobo partnership, and they are one of the 450+ ABA members who are selling the ereaders.

Normally that would not be newsworthy, but HBS is also one of a handful of bookstores which have an Espresso Book Machine. That puts this store in a  select group of a dozen US booksellers (including Powell’s, McNally Jackson, and Politics & Prose) which are selling both ereaders and POD books.

One could argue that these stores are still booksellers, but the fact of the matter is these booksellers are now gadget retailers and print shops. I’ve written about HBS and their Espresso Book Machine before, and one thing which is obvious the first moment you see it is that the big bulky machinery changes the vibe of the bookstore. Are you sure that these booksellers have the same character of a bookstore that they had before they joined the Collectives?

I  truly do not know, myself.  I just thought that this situation was interesting, and I wanted to see what others think.

Nate Hoffelder

View posts by Nate Hoffelder
Nate Hoffelder is the founder of The Digital Reader. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills weekly. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.


  1. Mark Leslie13 December, 2012

    I think that it’s a bookstore of the future. These are booksellers who are experimenting with digital (deliver digital/print local via the Espresso Book Machine) and digital books –> allowing their customers to be able to buy eBooks in a way that still generates revenue for them (rather than completely losing sales to the growing eBook market) The booksellers you called out are, in my opinion, leaders, innovators and certainly bookstores to watch.

    (Of course, I’m admittedly biased – I used to manage a bookstore that had an EBM and I’m now heavily involved in digital books – but I’m still a die-hard bookseller through and through)

  2. monopole13 December, 2012

    A book is a book is a book. If I can walk into a bookstore and get the book I want “by whatever means necessary” that is a good bookstore. If the bookseller can locate the book I need and sell it to me in whatever format necessary used, new, POD, or eBook , It’s a win/win.

    Arguably, if there is only one copy of every book but a much wider selection, with QR or NFC tags for books that can be purchased POD or electronic, so much the better.

    The point at which Borders went into a death spiral for me, is when I went into a branch looking for an SF novel. The books were double stacked and near impossible to look through. When I asked the staff, the surly reply was (without even checking inventory) “you’ll have to get it on the internet”. Going back to the shelves I discovered the titles had been sorted by hardcover, trade, and paperback and found the title despite the staff.

    Frankly, I could well conceive of a “perfect” physical bookstore with few books at hand, but huge virtual stacks accessed via large touchscreen displayed and manned by top notch booksellers/librarians. Once a book has been selected, it would be retrieved from automatic stacks, POD, or loaded onto my eReader. The remainder of the store would be coffee, reading areas, hardware, and (separate ) space for performance, talks and signings.

  3. Eric Riback13 December, 2012

    Most bookstores have espresso — coffee, not a book-printing machine, and they still call themselves bookstores, so the answer to your question is “yes.”

  4. Paul13 December, 2012

    Politics and Prose in DC has switched from Google to Kobe ebooks (and they have a useful link describing how to transfer your books from Google Play to the Kobe). Unfortunately, no description on how to switch them over to a Nook.

    1. Nate Hoffelder13 December, 2012

      I know they switched to Kobo, yes. That’s why I named them.

      And besides, what with the Google partnership winding down any ABA bookseller who wants to do ebooks has switched from Google to Kobo already.

      1. Paul13 December, 2012

        Sorry skimmed that bit. I thought you were referring specifically to their expresso machine, not the other changes they had done.

  5. peter paul14 December, 2012

    If bookstores stay the way they were/are, like the traditional bookstore where you only can buy books, they will quickly fade away. They will be end of live stores. They need to adapt to a rapidly changing ‘book world’ (ebooks, ereaders, self publishing and yes of course a nice cup of coffee).
    In The Netherlands, bookstores are rapidly changing. Some of them have even have their own self publishing platform for their regional audience: a huge success. They bind their audience with self publishing even more. They use a private label publishing solution of, the leading self publisher in The Netherlands and also in operation in Germany ands soon the UK. Take a look at: if you are interested in the concept.

  6. Is a Bookstore Still a Bookstore If it Sells eReaders and Offers POD Books? | The Passive Voice14 December, 2012

    […] Link to the rest at The Digital Reader […]

  7. William Ockham14 December, 2012

    What business do you think bookstores are in? Spoiler alert: It’s not selling bits of ink splattered on pieces of paper which are bound together between two pieces of cardboard. Bookstores sell the most amazing products imaginable. Literally. They sell entertainment, escape, enlightenment, and education. Have you ever heard the line about how nobody goes to the hardware store to buy a drill? They go because the need a hole. Nobody goes to the bookstore to buy a book. They go because they have a need that book can fill. POD and ereaders are essential to having a real bookstore.

    Harvard Bookstore clearly understands their business far better than you do. They aren’t selling gadgets and printing. They are selling the same things they always have. If you can’t see that, you have blinded yourself. You are mistaking the delivery mechanism for the product.

  8. […] Is a Bookstore Still a Bookstore If it Sells eReaders and Offers POD Books? ( […]

  9. Steve Vernon24 September, 2013

    I’m usually ALL for progress and shaking my pom-poms at the digital era – but I was kind of bummed out about a recent Indigo/Chapters flyer that had nothing in it but blankets and plates and furniture and a little squib that basically said “Oh yeah, we’ve got books, too.”

    To make matters worse there was a huge blurb on the front page that spoke of books as being “A vital part of any decor.”

    In other words, no living room is complete without a few color-coordinated volumes in prominent display.

    Say it with me folks – reading is optional…

  10. […] And for some stores this includes selling ereaders and POD books. I myself noted this trend in December of last year when I blogged about Harvard Book Store […]

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