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Booksellers ponder the future of browsing



Published: Sat, June 11, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Booksellers and publishers agree: An accelerated society can't help affecting an industry known for taking its time.

NEW YORK (AP) -- As the book world winds up its annual national convention, some retailers are wondering about the fate of a cultural institution.

It's not a book or a publisher, but a customer -- the old-fashioned bookstore browser who picks and pokes and doesn't care about the critics or Oprah or the best-seller charts.

"I think people are less likely to just look around than they were five years ago," says Margaret Maupin, a buyer for The Tattered Cover in Denver. "And they're more impatient about getting a book. They come in and ask for it and if you don't have it they go somewhere else."

Nobody at BookExpo America was predicting the demise of those idle, curious souls who think of bookstores as second homes. However, booksellers and publishers agree that an accelerated society can't help affecting an industry known for taking its time.

They speak of a more "focused" consumer who knows what he or she wants, which is often the same as what others want -- what Simon & amp; Schuster CEO Jack Romanos calls "the herding mentality." The managers of The Book Stall, based in Winnetka, Ill., notice more people phoning in orders or double-parking out front while they hurry inside for a purchase.

Focused customer

"People are spending less time in the back of the store, looking through the philosophy section, and more time at the tables for 'recommended books' in front. They're looking for someone to narrow their choices," says Ryan Coonerty, vice president of the California-based Bookshop Santa Cruz.

Some familiar reasons are offered: the media's emphasis on just a handful of books at a time, competition from the Internet, DVDs and other forms of information and entertainment and, most of all, increasingly busy lives.

"The idea that people have less time to spend in the bookstore rings true to me," says Oren Teicher, chief operating officer of the American Booksellers Association. "Every study shows how people's time is at a premium."

With an estimated 195,000 books coming out last year, it seems unthinkable that anyone could make up his or her mind about what to buy. BookExpo helps consolidate those choices, taking thousands and thousands of upcoming publications and, through the magic filter of "buzz," reducing them to a manageable group of "must-reads."

Some of those books, such as "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" and Bob Woodward's Deep Throat memoir, "The Secret Man," were buzzed to the sky even before the convention.




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