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E-books will account for 40 per cent of book revenue within five years, predicts Reisman

Two years ago, Heather Reisman, CEO and “chief booklover” of Indigo Books and Music, predicted that e-books would cannibalize 15 per cent of traditional book sales at her stores  in five years’ time. Reisman has since revised that prediction. She now puts the figure at as much as 40 per cent.

The Globe and Mail‘s Marina Strauss interviewed Reisman about how Indigo plans to cope in a market in which e-books are gaining popularity faster than anyone had expected. How do traditional booksellers survive in a world in which a large minority of sales doesn’t require physical stock to move through the store? In a word, says Reisman, they don’t.

In the book industry, when you are in a situation where you know that 40 per cent of your business is going to go digital “ you need to change, Ms. Reisman, chief executive officer at Indigo, said in an interview in her office, which she recently cleared of decorative penguin figures and other mementos in a nod to her company’s transformation in the digital age.

Her road map for the country’s largest book seller takes a detour from physical books. Indigo, like many book retailers worldwide, has a toehold in the digital books business, with a majority stake in Kobo. But in the stores, Ms. Reisman, who had a head start in envisaging Indigo as a cultural department store, is betting more than ever on other categories. Indigo is stepping up its offerings of tableware, toys and tote bags “ even putting comfy chairs back in the stores, in the hope of stemming the tide of consumers abandoning the retailer for Web-based alternatives.

Strauss points out that although Indigo owns a majority stake in Kobo, the e-book retailer posted a loss last quarter, and Reisman doesn’t expect it to start turning a profit until at least next year. In the meantime, she is betting the house on the kind of product diversification that could make Indigo, in Reisman’s own words, “the world’s first lifestyle store for booklovers.”