Bye-bye, bookshops?

Seamus McCauley writes:

I like the atmosphere of a bookshop; I like the serendipitous stumbling-upon of new titles; I like to be reminded of other books I’ve enjoyed and to compare them to potential purchases; browsing for books is a pleasure in itself beyond the mere function of acquiring the book at the end of it. For this, I let bookshops overcharge me. I can live with the fact that the entertainment I get from browsing bookshops isn’t free.
Interesting therefore to see… that Jott is offering Amazon shopping by telephone: call them up, tell them the product you want to buy from Amazon, and they’ll email back with prices options. With just a couple of tweaks that could replace my expensive offline book-buying experience without diminishing my bookshop-browsing fun. Imagine – pick up a book in a bookshop. Call Jott (or whoever) and tell their system what book you’re thinking of buying. Hear the best price for buying it online, with delivery times. Put the book back on the shelf, and confirm to Jott you want the book delivered for that price.
Same for computers, iPods, cars…anything you can go to a shop to see but can probably buy more cheaply online…The only downside is that I’ll miss the bookshops when they go out of business.

Hm. A low-tech version of this was one of the justifications for retail price maintenance agreements: suppliers feared that customers would first visit a luxury retailer to get advice and sample a range of products, and then pick up the discounted version at some big-box store.
I tend to think of such agreements as far more likely to stifle competition and damage the consumer, including damage to the consumer’s lovely retailing experience. And I think Seamus’s scenario is unlikely. But I’ve been wrong before…
I reckon the book business is far more at risk from (better, sexier versions of) Kindle and Sony Reader.

Tim Harford’s blog

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Tim, also known as the Undercover Economist, writes about the economics of everyday life.