Could there be a network that lets its users buy books from local bookstores and receive same day delivery? The independent bookstores in a metropolitan area don’t currently connect to an online network of local residents and sell a book with same-day delivery. On the other hand, national conglomerates do offer this.

National conglomerates like Amazon offer commodified books, some with same-day delivery, alongside rarer and used books, which may offer 2-day delivery as long as the seller uses Amazon’s fulfillment network. In this sense, local booksellers are online, but serving a national base and not necessarily the local base.

Most independent bookstores provide an editorial point of view and offer books that are rarer because they either publish themselves or focus on a topic. They will offer standard shipping inside the US or globally, but don’t seem to be connected to an on-demand delivery network.

Independent bookstores vary widely in the online/offline nature of their inventories. Some stores offer no web access to their inventories, some will offer featured titles online only, and some will offer fully searchable catalog access. There aren’t any integrated inventory databases available that would let you search across all the independent bookstores in one city.

Why? First: tracking and managing inventory has a cost made up of IT investment, labor, and training. IT systems are not static; they require ongoing and expensive maintenance after the initial investment. Staff are required to devote time to managing the information in the system, tagging books, and keeping the system informed. The available labor pool will be limited to staff willing to work with the IT system chosen by the store.

Second: Open access to price information might drive prices to converge lower. If it doesn’t cost anything for a buyer to compare prices, the store will face pressure to lower its costs in accordance with its neighbors, and also lower costs of complementary services to make the sale more attractive.

Third: the main value offered by independent stores has little to do with fulfilling on-demand research ambitions of buyers, and much more to do with the intuitive, physical process of visiting a bookstore with an open mind. This would mean that there are far more buyers who use the store to shake up their thinking than there are buyers who use the store as a warehouse.

After inventory considerations, delivery costs are a factor that would often cost more than the value of a book. Transportation and logistical networks are changing quickly, so this variable may fall quite a bit. Two examples are the Uber Rush network (which costs $6 per for the first mile and $3 for additional miles) and Godspeed couriers (bicyclists which cost $13.50 to $35 to cover a small city). In the future, these delivery networks may benefit from scale as the pass the point where they can implement pooling algorithms, which they already do for transporting people.

One possible future is that the stores do not cooperate on a city scale, but instead the largest stores may choose to augment themselves with a delivery service, just serving their own catalog. Then they could reach their existing customers and not suffer potential downward pressure on prices from competition.

In the end, I believe the strongest reason that this system doesn’t exist is that most independent bookstore customers enjoy visiting the store for ideas, and read enough that they don’t care if a book takes more than one day to arrive. The buyers who is doing intensive research and needs an instant copy are probably small enough that they can use Amazon or just tough it out.