The cinema experience

It seems every week opens with another set of gloomy retail figures and shop closures. With the continued growth of online retailing and surging popularity of e-readers, it's easy to predict that digital downloads and home delivery convenience will eventually mark the demise of the bricks-and-mortar bookstore.

Yet all this need not be the death knell for the High Street. The same dark predictions were made for cinemas a decade ago, as video and then DVD rental changed the way UK consumers watched films.

To survive, the cinema industry had to restructure and innovate, creating new propositions and experiences that were engaging for today's moviegoers, and that set the cinema experience apart from watching films at home.

The innovation centred on the physical environment, starting with the upgrading to digital screens. UK cinemas now have the second highest number of digital screens in Europe (behind France), of which 75% are capable of showing 3D movies. This was crucial, as big-screen 3D not only made home viewing seem ‘ordinary’ by comparison, but also commanded a premium ticket price, so repaying the investment. Furthermore, 3D movies especially attracted kids and families, increasing audience admissions (now 27% of total box office takings) and developing a habit for cinema-going among a new generation.

Multiplex cinemas also offered greater film choice and more flexible screening times, which enabled targeted movie schedules to meet the needs not only of kids (and their parents), but ethnic and cultural minorities, pensioners, art-house film fans and beyond. For all the despairing cries that such innovation would kill off independent cinemas, the figures show that whilst multiplexes own the majority of screens, they represent only 39% of venues, up from 34% in 2002. Independent movie houses have developed niche offerings alongside the multiplex experience, adding more generous seating, quality food and drink and an exclusive atmosphere.

The result? Despite the recession and the threat of at-home movie downloading, cinema revenues are at near-record peaks, and audience attendance is stable.

The lesson for high street book retailers is to take a fresh look at how a store experience can engage visitors. There's still something timeless and romantic about the notion of a bookshop, but to survive, salvation lies in going out and genuinely listening to how shoppers feel about these environments.

As a topical example, this week is half-term. With parents looking for ways to keep their children occupied, Vue cinemas are running KidsAM—extending their regular Saturday morning offering to every day throughout the holidays for just £1.25. And for a full family
outing, they're also showing "The Lion King 3D", where adults pay kids' price admission.

Likewise, bookshops should be running in-­store events using activity books, and offering co-­promotion deals with local outdoor events. Kids should be listening to readings or entering competitions while adults enjoy a coffee, and take advantage of free Wi-­Fi. Just as cinemas have learnt to reclaim a place in customers’ busy lives, so bookshops need to make customers feel that a visit is both time and money well-spent.