Bookstores Sell Books, Right?

Authors write ideas. Publishers publish words. Bookstores sell books.

Seemingly like any other traditional supply chain, described and understood by the layman. It was simple, with an obvious path from Point A to Point B. What happened next? The digital revolution.

The internet, the emergence of eBooks and the expanse of online digital depositories fundamentally changed the industry. The majority of booksellers failed to develop innovative and creative solutions to the new marketplace they were in. Sales of physical books declined rapidly, and subsequently books became scarce and bookstores became relatively non-existent.

What went wrong? The issue is that consumers don’t want books. Bookstores aren’t in the business of selling books; they sell knowledge. Prior to these rapid innovations in the industry, the technology didn’t exist for consumers to demand anything else – consumers had to demand knowledge in the form of books.

With the advent of the internet, we saw the industry become more and more like a commons. Whole new bodies of knowledge that weren’t previously available to consumers (at least not at a reasonable cost) became cheap, accessible and unregulated. Bookstores went out of business as the central structure of their institution changed. They just weren’t quick enough to change with it. That’s what happens when you ignore institutional change and the lines between private property and commons become blurred.

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