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Bookstores charging for browsing and not buying?

charging for browsing

Are bookstores charging for browsing or is it a crazy rumor? How is retail compensating for the advantage they have of people being able to try products, while threatened by online pricing?

Bookstores charging for browsing now?

Just over a year ago, Australian retailers responded to new laws that required brick and mortar stores to charge taxes but not online retailers by experimenting with charging customers for trying on clothes and boots, refunding the fee to actual buyers but keeping it when someone opts not to purchase anything. Now, there are rumors that bookstores could begin charging customers to brows their stores.

CEO of Harper Collins CEO, Victoria Barnsley stated on BBC Radio that bookstores charging for browsing may be in the future, noting the idea is “not that insane.”

Barnsley cited a report that only 35 percent of all fiction books sold in the UK are done so through a brick and mortar bookstore, noting that these stores are “under tremendous pressure,” and that in the current environment, charging customers “for the privilege of browsing” is not out of the question.

Another guest on the show pondered why someone would pay more for a book than they would to see the movie adaptation. While the real question remains whether or not physical bookstores will survive in light of the threat of online shopping and e-books, Barnsley notes that people still do fancy physical books, but e-books could soon split to 50 percent of the market.

Bookstores aren’t alone

Bookstores charging for browsing? If this were to become the norm, it could hurt their business more than it could benefit. Chain booksellers could very easily set the precedent and get the ball rolling, and of course later, see the error of their ways, leaving independent stores to adapt in response.

This conversation of balancing traditional sales with digital sales is not unique to bookstores or shoe stores. While not all companies require payment, many industries require an email address, for example Realtor sites that require registration in order to view available homes. The concept is not new, so perhaps a browsing fee may creep into other industries to compensate for lookie-lous.

For now, it’s just a discussion, but the idea could evolve into something more acceptable that still allows brick and mortar to use their physical presence as an advantage rather than a disadvantage.



  1. agbenn

    February 25, 2013 at 12:37 am

    I think it’s fair, I see 50 people lounging in barnes & noble at anyone time and no one buys, they sip starbucks and leave, reading books, magazines, and run to amazon to buy or go online – how can they survive like that?

  2. Karri Flatla

    February 25, 2013 at 4:09 pm

    Their main competition is public libraries which increasingly resemble the coffee house vibe. I think our propensity to underestimate what people are “willing to pay for” is a bit comical. People will pay all kinds of user fees and produce premiums as long as the experience is perceived to be valuable in some way.

    Much like people balking at the consulting model in real estate. We ASSUME “no one will pay for it,” but alas … they absolutely DO.

  3. Pingback: Indie bookstores are pushing back on a ridiculously stupid law - The American Genius

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