Print books aren't as dead as they might seem. In fact, the most recent annual numbers show a mere 1 percent drop in physical book sales over the previous years. Plus, as my colleague Neil Irwin pointed out, there's a segment of consumers who read a handful of books per year and like to keep them on a shelf as trophies. And some segments, like visual children's books, currently don't translate as well to digital formats.
Still, bookstores are having a tough time. Bookstore sales fell 9.6 percent between 2007 and 2011. And bookstore sales from January through September of this year were down 2.6 percent from the same period last year. Consumers haven't stopped purchasing print books, but they are becoming increasingly likely to purchase through an e-tailer. You know, like Amazon.
This trend is analogous to the shift in the video market from physical media to streaming content. Or, for that matter, the shift from print newspapers to the Web. And it could be argued that Amazon is offering independent retailers a way to get a cut of those sales as they look for another business model -- like, say, turning into a coffee shop. But it's hard not to see the Amazon Source program as Amazon asking booksellers to help make themselves irrelevant.
[Amazon founder and chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.]