Friday, May 9, 2008

Social side of bookshops

Bookshops are a hallowed ground on the high street, or on campus. They have the high spending per square metre of a shop, but the quietness and sensible nature of a library. No pumping music, no anorexia-inducing models on display - unlike the rest of retail, the focus is on knowledge and choosing the right product. It is generally a solitary activity, even if you're there with a friend or spouse.

Yet those that frequent a bookshop are more united than most other shoppers. If I stand in front of the Computing section and leaf through Agile Methods books or Web Site Zen, I am united with the other browsers of the section. The basic elements for a classic community are there - geography (we're in the same bookshop, in the same town), commonality of interest (the section we're browsing) and probably social status (although that shouldn't separate us, really).

A golden opportunity.

The web two-point-oh 'revolution' is about interaction and user-generated content. But that's just community with shiny buttons. The internet has always been about information, porn and community. Assuming we've grown out of the second, much of the latest stuff has just been usable combinations of information and community. And if I'm in community with my fellow information seekers in a bookshop, we've shortcircuited the painful path to video-based social networking websites dedicated to specific groups.

The idea is this: have book nights for given subjects. Get an author or other 'name' in, provide coffee/beer and have a short talk and a Q&A. Let people ask questions about which books are actually useful, or whatever they like related to the subject. An example: "Computing book night, with the author of Agile Methods. Bring an inquisitive mind and questions about Agile methods."

There's some truth in the stereotype that geeks lack social skills, yet everyone needs community. I suspect that for many subjects of these book nights, if you build it they will come. But tell tem it's for their education, and let the social side accidentally happen.

Here's the stimulus; my suggestion for a campus bookshop which also sells snacks and drinks:
"It's summer, so let's have an al-fresco reading area outside - provide some cheap novels, expect people to buy their books first. Nice comfy sofas from the union communal area should work.

That should get people to come to the bookshop, and consuming more snacks."

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