The New York Times ran an article earlier this week about Barnes & Noble's decision to close its bookstore across the street from Lincoln Center in New York City. The article said that many people in the neighborhood who didn't buy anything there are sad that the store is closing, and that the store is at least as important as a social meeting place as it is as a bookstore.
With that in mind, what will a typical Barnes & Noble store look like ten years from now? (I realize that I'm making the assumption, not altogether defensible, that Barnes & Noble will still be in business in ten years.) First of all, there will be far fewer stores than there are now, and the ones that remain will be much smaller and will look more like oversized Starbucks than bookstores. The cafe will dominate and will take up the largest amount of floor space. There will be a display space for demonstrating and selling whatever the nook eBook reader turns into ten years from now.
Some print books will still be on sale, but only a very limited selection of bestsellers. For everything else, there will be one or more touchscreen kiosks at which customers can browse tens of thousands of titles. Customers will be able to purchase any of them as eBooks and immediately download them to their eBook readers or tablets, or order physical copies for home delivery. They'll also be able to "rent" them for reading on their eBook readers or tablets while they're in the store.
Barnes & Noble may also place its kiosks into a big-box retailer such as Wal-Mart, Target or Best Buy, just as Wal-Marts have Redbox DVD kiosks inside their entrances. The combination of downsizing and using kiosks to sell books could reopen a niche for independent bookstores that actually stock a wider variety of titles, for those customers who still want to look through physical books on shelves before purchasing and are willing to pay a higher price for that privilege.
Like video rental stores before them, book superstores such as Barnes and Noble and Borders are becoming dinosaurs. They'll have to evolve into social meeting places that also sell books, or even just automated kiosks in big-box stores and coffeehouses, if they want to survive.