About 10 years ago, I can remember arguing with friends inside of a Barnes & Noble over reading the books in the store. Many of them would tell me how they loved to go stake a claim in the store, grab a book and read it through. But never buy it.
“It’s not a library!” I would always argue.
“But they’ve got big comfy chairs,” my friends always seemed to rebut.
I was pretty set in my principles. I thought my arguing was helping out Barnes & Noble. I felt like I was standing up for their business model, and identifying those who were taking advantage of it. I was an ambassador, a protector. “Don’t sit around and read the books,” I would say. “Buy it, and read it at home like a normal person. This is business, not a pool hall.”
Looking back, I don’t think Barnes & Noble wanted me as their ambassador. Looking back, I can see I was wrong about their business model, too. They thrive on people hanging out for hours in the store, reading books they’ll never buy. It’s really quite obvious – they have big, comfy chairs.
Drew details what’s really going on here in his post. Now, the most successful businesses seem to be experts at the facilitation of “hanging out.” Drew gives examples of brick and mortar businesses, but it’s becoming even more important to create a hangout space on the web. As you look at the most successful sites on the web right now, they’re all about community. That’s nothing new. Sites like Twitter.com and, of course, MySpace have taken web community to the next level, and people spend lots of time on those sites, just like people spend lots of time at Barnes & Noble. Those sites have an online version of a big, comfy chair that’s fitted perfectly for certain people.
So why do we like hanging out, and how does it lead to actually buying something at the place we’re hanging out? There are a few reasons, but I think it comes down to a simple reaction to being overwhelmed with messages in our lives. The TV screams at us, radio screams at us, email screams at us, the web screams at us. But we can’t handle all that anymore – there’s just too much. Instead, there’s something inside us that prompts us to get to know the business. Date it, even. There’s an initial attraction, we go explore it, but we don’t dive in head first. We test it, observe it, then take another step. Then another. Then we start to enjoy the whole experience. We realize it’s not just a one-trick pony; there’s depth to this business. We keep it going for as long as it takes, and then we’re convinced that this relationship is a good thing, and we open up.
We buy a book. Probably lots of them.
And it all started with the big, comfy chair.