Exploring “Smart Bookstores” and Libraries of the Future

In Feature Articles by Roger Tagholm

Javier Celaya and Elisa Yuste are presenting “Wearable Tech: Enriching the bookshop experience” at the Publishing for Digital Minds Conference at Olympia London on Monday, April 13.

By Roger Tagholm

Javier Celaya

Javier Celaya

From intelligent carpets to motion sensor beacons, there are all kinds of technologies in development that will transform our experience of bookstores and other physical spaces. Javier Celaya and Elisa Yuste from Dosdoce.com – which provides counseling and training services to publishing sector companies – are presenting an overview of what’s ahead at the Publishing for Digital Minds Conference in London next week. Here’s a teaser.

PP: We’re familiar with smart phones. But “smart” bookshops are something new. What sort of things are we talking about?

Celaya and Yuste: We are facing a complete transformation of physical spaces and experiences. Cultural entities such as bookstores, libraries, museum stores, etc., will be no exception.

The retail sector is undergoing the biggest transformation since the car enabled the out-of-town shopping mall. The possibility that most of the high street stores we visit now won’t be open in ten or 15 years is very high. If we all admit that the Internet has radically changed the way people search and buy all kind of products, does anybody believe that stores can maintain the same physical discovery and purchase experiences?

The emergence of third generation technologies will transform physical spaces like bookstores, libraries and museum stores. There is an almost unanimous agreement on just how completely many things have changed in a relatively short period of time. But when we analyze the future of retail and consumer behavior there are people who are reluctant to admit that radical disruption might be around the corner.

Elisa Yuste

Elisa Yuste

The new wave of technologies such as face recognition systems; smart sensors (beacons); recommendation systems based on users’ satisfaction; and interactive applications offer all types of stores an impressive range of possibilities to enrich users’ experience.

All these new technologies will transform the way these spaces offer their content, products and services to their users. They will change the way they help customers select physical and digital products, and they will enhance the way customers share their buying experience.

In the digital era, visiting a museum store, library or bookstore will not only be an individual activity, but part of a social, shared experience. Cultural entities will gradually incorporate into their physical spaces all kind of technologies such as digital content gift cards, touch screens with recommendation systems based on previous users’ satisfaction and intelligent carpets that detect users’ behavior – all to provide a best-of-breed discoverability and buying experience.

How can it help bookshops? Can you give examples?

The real added value of the Internet, beyond mere commercial transaction, is a direct knowledge of customers and their behavior in the process of buying or lending contents.

Buying a book doesn’t mean you liked it. Often a book plot loses interest – we dislike a character, or someone gives us another book that hooks us and we stop reading the previous one.

These situations are more common than we suspect. How is a bookseller going to recommend a good book if he or she doesn’t know the level of satisfaction the client had about the previous sale?

Recommendation technologies will become the main prescribers of cultural content. Social technologies will provide personalized recommendations, not only analyzing our buying habits, as most platforms do today, but the studying in depth of our cultural consumption behavior.

This data from consumers’ real behavior will become the main asset and the competitive advantage of firms that manage cultural content on the Web.

Are any shops using this already?

Yes, of course. From eBay’s interactive touch showcases in their stores in New York to the customer behavior monitoring services at companies like ShopperTrak. There are also some concrete examples in the book world. The bookseller Cervantes & Cia, in Madrid has a large screen on which they show news and book trailers; and robots in libraries are being used to welcome users and to help teach coding and computer-programming skills. For example Vincent and Nancy at Connecticut’s Library and The Finch at Chicago Public Library. These kind of developments are being thought off for other things too, such as making suggestions, which can be very useful in both bookshops and libraries.

There are other cultural spaces in which the emergence of technology has been more noticeable. Some museum stores have motion sensors – carpets that detect passage – or exhibitions that incorporate Augmented Reality. In the educational environment you can also find examples of interest in this line, such as the newly introduced Arborea: a digital desk for exploring interactively the Autonomous University of Mexico’s (UNAM) catalogue of new publications.

Do you think physical bookshops have a future?  What do they have to do to make sure they survive?

They have to adapt their business models to the digital era. The emergence of the Internet in the publishing sector does not only involve the digitization of content; its impact is much deeper, as it is already affecting all business processes (production, distribution, marketing, promotion, rights management, etc.). Like it or not, we have to assume that the habits of creation, access and cultural consumption are undergoing a historic transformation.

In the coming years we will live in a new era with unseen access to vast amounts of user-generated content. This will lead to the reorganization of the publishing sector, including bookstores. Book world professionals will have to reflect on what kind of business models they need to put in place to respond to these new ways of user’s co-creation, access and consumption of cultural content.

Most book publishing professionals understand technology as users, but fail to apply it in their businesses with an open-minded entrepreneurial mindset. Science has shown many times that the only way to move forward is to assume a trial-and-error mindset. Innovation entails losing the fear of making mistakes because the best way to understand this new digital era is through making mistakes.

What does the future hold? What might we see in 10 years time?

In our view, we are facing a complete transformation of bookstores as physical spaces. It’s no longer enough to have a social media presence or offer print books or ebooks for purchase. The new wave of technologies will transform bookstores – their services and their physical spaces.

Does anybody believe that bookstores can keep the same 20th-century physical experience and services?

In the digital era, visiting a bookstore is not a merely analogue activity but a process shared with technology. In order to continue providing users the best service and enrich their visit experiences, bookstores will gradually incorporate in their physical spaces all kind of technologies mentioned above. We believe that the potential of these technologies is immense.


Javier Celaya is the CEO and founder of Dosdoce.com, as well as the vice president of the Spanish Digital Magazines Association (ARDE) and member of the Executive Board of the Digital Economy Association of Spain. Dosdoce.com was launched in March 2004 for the purpose of analyzing the use of new technologies in the cultural sector and publishes annual studies related to trends in the creative industries.

Elisa Yuste is consultant and trainer in the fields of culture, publishing, libraries and education. She is member of the team of Dosdoce.com, and collaborates with Manuscritics.com, boolino.com and Leoteca.es.

About the Author

Roger Tagholm


Roger Tagholm is based in London and has been writing about the book industry for more than 20 years. He is the former Deputy Editor of Publishing News and the author of Walking Literary London (New Holland) and Poems NOT on the Underground (Windrush Press).