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Retail, or Third Place?

April 9, 2010 23:14:44.394

Clay Shirky has an interesting post up on some absurd claims being made by the ABA (American Booksellers) - to wit, that lower book prices at online retailers like Amazon are somehow leading to the death of reading. Shirky starts from there, but goes on to the larger problems that a lot of street level retail outlets are developing - it's just easier to buy online. Where does that leave, say, bookstores? Maybe a future as a "third place":

The core idea is to appeal to that small subset of customers who think of bookstores as their “third place”, alongside home and work. These people care about the store’s existence in physical (and therefore social) space; the goal would be to generate enough revenue from them to make the difference between red and black ink, and to make the new bargain not just acceptable but desirable for all parties. A small collection of patron saints who helped keep a local bookstore open could be cheaply smothered in appreciation by the culture they help support.

As Shirky points out though, there's no assurance that such a model will work; there may not be enough money in it. I think Shirky is correct that retail is about to take a huge beating as people do more and more shopping online. Ultimately, I think bars, coffee shops, and restaurants will be the surviving "third place" - but go ahead and read his piece.

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posted by James Robertson

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