“Showrooming” is the term coined by booksellers for customers who browse around their stores but end up buying books online or elsewhere. While there is no real, egregious criminal activity involved in the act, taking advantage of the atmosphere and careful selection and artful display set out by the workers without offering patronage for their efforts is a bit… well, it’s not classy, especially for those of us who are decrying the fall of paper books to the encroaching electronic trade.
I myself have been a long time customer of Amazon.com, and almost every week, I ritualistically browse the shelves at my local Barnes and Noble. These two giants will probably have no trouble staying afloat because of all their alternative profit models. And as an aspiring author, I want to find the best way of maximizing the earnings of the authors that I read.
I think independent booksellers take a bigger hit from showrooming people, but there’s evidence to the contrary. Valeria Koehler of Houston’s Blue Willow Bookshop thinks people enter the bookstore more often than not to make purchases, and she is not threatened by them typing away on their smartphones. I’m guilty of using my smartphone all the time in B&N, but not to look up prices. I’m usually checking my Goodreads list for reviews and queue volume.
But according to book research company Codex Group, showrooming practices and ebook growth is a major threat to brick and mortar bookstores. The solution? Perhaps publishers should work to promote retailers as movies studios do theaters. Or perhaps those of us who care could stop browsing in one place but buying elsewhere.