How To Redesign Bookstores For The Amazon Era

Four design firms rethink where we sell books.

How To Redesign Bookstores For The Amazon Era
[Image: Books via Shutterstock]

In this day and age, brick-and-mortar bookstores are few and far between. Though independent bookstores have had a recent (modest) resurgence, their numbers have been dwindling in the last decade. In the U.S., 1,000 independent bookstores closed between 2000 and 2007, bowing to economic downturn and the rise of super-powerful online sellers like Amazon. Between 2005 and 2014, the number of independent bookstores in the U.K. dropped from more than 1,500 to 987.


The Economist’s culture magazine Intelligent Life asked four architecture and design firms to come up with a redesigned retail experience, specifically: “in the age of Amazon and e-books, a bookshop to save bookshops.” Asked to design a retail space for a general-interest bookshop with two floors covering a total of 2,000 square feet, Gensler, 20.20, Toronto-based Burdifilek, and Coffey Architects came up with new ways to conceive of the modern bookstore.

As Intelligent Life describes the results:

Gensler’s, 20.20’s and Burdifilek’s stores have some striking things in common. They all give you something to do with your hands, at table height, as soon as you enter. They all have a double-height feature that both identifies the brand and draws the customer deeper into the space…They all use hand-held card readers. The stores are flexible: the furniture can be moved and the books frequently changed or–a word that came up a lot–‘curated.’ Most significantly, all these future bookshops integrate technology both to expand the range of product (to rival Amazon in scope if not price) and to enable customers to do something in-store that they couldn’t do on a smartphone–to beat Amazon on experience.

Gensler proposed a shop with a touch-screen facade that would let visitors download e-books even when the retail store is closed, and pods that would provide the appropriate soundtrack, smell, or even drink for the literary title of your choice.

Burdifilek’s store “is more of a gallery, showcasing particular books alongside related merchandise,” according to the magazine. “So for six weeks, the focus might be cookery, with the store selling pots and pans as well as cookbooks; then it might switch to Danish design.”

Design consultancy 20.20 suggested a space called The Art of Storytelling, anchored by a cafe featuring a sushi-style conveyor belt that would deliver short books and reviews to read with your coffee. Customers could rent a desk to write at or self-publish on an in-house printing press.


The last idea, from London-based Coffey Architects, “celebrates the arcane arts of printing and bookbinding”:

Wide steps double as seating and lead down to a bar and a stage, where a writer performs–‘authors will become more like rock stars’–or a ‘book wizard’ explains the craft of making books. The book you make might be one by the writer on stage, something you’ve written yourself, or any other text the robots conjure up. You’d do it to enjoy the pleasures e-books will have ceased to offer: the smell and feel of ink and paper, the heft of a hardback in your hands, a cover that’s a work of art.

We can’t wait for a future full of book wizards.

Read more from Intelligent Life

About the author

Shaunacy Ferro is a Brooklyn-based writer covering architecture, urban design and the sciences. She's on a lifelong quest for the perfect donut.