by Nancy K. Herther, writer, information consultant and retired academic librarian
In the three years since the onset of COVID, the global community – still reeling from this abrupt and unforeseen crisis – is working to evolve and develop new commerce and learning models which will spawn a a new era of growth. Part 1 of this series provided an overview of the massive changes brought by the pandemic and the increasing influence and power of the internet on publishing and bookstores. BookTok was covered in a special four-part series in the Charleston Hub last year.
Perhaps prophetically, former Disney chief Bob Iger, appearing at the recent industry event, the Code Conference in LA, admitted that the pandemic left a “permanent scar” on the film business. “It won’t go away,” he said, “but it doesn’t come back to where it was.” Today we are entering a new era which will bring more change, perhaps even a future that won’t resemble what we’ve experienced pre-COVID.
THE WEB BECOMES EVEN MORE ESSENTIAL
The continuing evolution of the web and social media, along with global closures due to the pandemic, have radically – and permanently – changed the habits of our global population. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest, sometimes called the Big Four social media sites, continue to evolve content and services. However, they are hardly alone: WhatsApp, BookTok, Instagram, WeChat, Snapshot, Telegram and many other international yet regional systems have numbers of Monthly Active Users (MAUs) for each system which is often in the billions of users. (Many users have multiple accounts, making total numbers of unique users of social media difficult to gauge.) Today anyone can enter this marketplace as users/commentators or as creators, or most commonly both.
Despite the closures, access to traditional media and entertainment continues – though often with changes – and hasn’t disappeared entirely; however, we will never be going back to the world as we knew in the past.
THE FUTURE OF BOOKS & THE BOOK TRADE
What is the book sales forecast for 2023? Research from digital service company gitnux predicts that even though today’s “global trade book sales revenue is estimated to reach $78.07 billion, a 2.53% increase from 2022, due to the pandemic, global book sales dropped by 7.64% to below $80 billion for the first time in at least 3 years.” Still, bookstores, and especially independent bookstores, are predicted to survive; however, as Book Riot predicts, “future bookstores will feel like a shopping center. Bookstores in the future will likely be attached to other businesses.”
In July 2022, a Forbes article, industry analyst Josh Wilson predicted that a “post COVID rebound” was coming, noting that “more people were restricted in movement across the world due to government lockdowns, so viewing figures wholly went up across the board but advertising revenues went down.” Industry analyst Sam Logan, quoted in the Forbes article, noted that “we’re living in an era where things change so quickly. COVID taught us a lot in regards to how we can be heavily affected by things way out of our control,” adding that “the phrase ‘content is king’ has never been more apropos.”
CONSUMER BOOK PUBLISHING AND THE FUTURE OF BOOKSTORES
Precision Reports latest 121 pages report, Consumer Book Publishing Market Insights 2023 By Product Types, Application, and Major Key Players, provides information on these topics. The report notes that book publishing is now expected to reach a “compound annual growth rate (CAGR) during the forecast period, eventually reaching a multimillion-dollar size by 2030 as compared to 2023.”
“One possible direction for the future of bookstores is to become more focused on experiential retail, offering customers a unique and immersive experience that can’t be found online,” says Anna Davis from RT Book Reviews. Davis cites an example of this kind of “experiential” bookstore, which is the concept store created by the Italian publisher RCS Libri in Milan. “The store is designed to be a kind of cultural hub, offering a wide range of books as well as a café, event space, and even a recording studio…. Bookstores of the future will need to find new and innovative ways to stay relevant in a rapidly changing retail landscape, and to continue to offer customers an experience that they can’t find online,” continues Davis.
ADVANTAGES OF BRICK AND MORTAR BOOKSTORES
A recent article on the website All Novellas takes on the issue of traditional bookstores in the future, arguing for the future of traditional bookstores in the mix of future entertainment. “Despite the rise of online bookstores, brick-and-mortar bookstores still have a number of advantages that make them an attractive option for many people. One of the main benefits of shopping at a physical bookstore is the ability to physically browse the books and inspect them before making a purchase. This is particularly important for those who are particular about the condition of the books they buy and want to ensure that they are in good condition.”
Whatever the future, the article concludes, “the way we purchase and read books will continue to evolve in the years to come. Technology will continue to play a significant role in shaping the future of bookstores, and it remains to be seen what the retail landscape will look like in the next decade. In the end, the future of bookstores will be determined by consumer preferences and market trends, so it’s important for both brick-and-mortar and online bookstores to stay nimble and adapt to changing consumer behavior.”
IMAGINING FUTURE BOOKSTORES
Author Arvyn Cerézo, writing in Book Riot recently, sees a variety of potential options for bookstores, from being “attached to other businesses, such as cafés, museums, and restaurants” which he believes “might work in malls or commercial centers. People will be able to browse shelves while waiting for their hot cup of coffee, their takeout to be prepared, or even after a museum visit. Books will also be paired with products in these establishments.”
FINDING THIRD PLACES ONLINE
In 1989, sociologist Ray Oldenburg published a seminal analysis of what he calls “third places” which he defined as the public places on neutral ground where people can gather and interact in his book The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community. First places in his analysis were peoples’ homes, second places were their workplaces.
The third places are the locations where people meet to exchange ideas, have a good time, and build relationships. “Third places are the vital spaces where people go to exchange ideas, form relationships, and create communities,” perhaps not unlike the town squares of an early day. This could be a park, a bar, or, in today’s times, social media platforms. In other words, the third place is a place to hang out.” Town squares became common across the western world in the last 500 years; however, the Greek agora goes back even further, providing a public, urban space in the heart of towns and cities. However, today, new types of third places are developing.
“For young Americans, many third places are now virtual,” as the Brookings Institute recently reported, from Facebook and chat rooms to group texts. But as Oldenburg cautions, “the most effective ones for building real community seem to be physical places where people can easily and routinely connect with each other: churches, parks, recreation centers, hairdressers, gyms and even fast-food restaurants.” Not only are they physical spaces, but “are central to local democracy and community vitality.”
Since 1975, the nonprofit Project for Public Spaces has worked to make these principles key in the physical design of cities, parks and commercial areas. Perhaps one of the critical imperatives for the coming decade will be to incorporate these principles into spaces both physical and online that provide these types of interactions, community, sharing and change. The future of libraries, universities and other educational institutions in this new, third place is something that is currently under consideration and debate as well. In the third part of this report, we look at how libraries are planning and working toward defining their own places in this new post-COVID world.
Today, shopping centers, stores, schools, recreational venues, colleges and even libraries continue to deal with the ongoing COVID-era changes; another type of transition is taking place. As the BBC noted in 2021, “the idea of third places isn’t a new concept but has taken on new meaning during multiple lockdowns. American sociologists Ramon Oldenburg and Dennis Brissett first defined them in 1982 as public spaces crucial for neighborhoods as a space to interact, gather, meet and talk. These places help communities and groups build and retain a sense of cohesion. Think the Paris coffee shops where the French revolution brewed, or British pubs where engineers designed the first public railway. Bits of ideas floated around and connected in these heady atmospheres during eras of rapid change.”
Libraries, schools of all types, as well as other formal institutions, are looking at how the pivots we have all experienced during COVID, along with all of the changes brought by the growing importance and power of social media, are rapidly changing many of the most traditional institutions of our global society – including libraries and education.
In Part 3 of this series, we look more closely at the impacts of these changes and technologies on libraries and the balance of new roles with existing mandates and options for future growth.
Nancy K. Herther is a writer, information consultant and retired academic librarian. firstname.lastname@example.org