Pokemon Go in Bookstores: Boon or Bane?


When Pokemon Go was released in July, it quickly went viral, spawning tons of posts, memes, photos, videos, and other internet fodder. It was also quickly blamed for a rise in crime, such as a stabbing that occurred in California during the game’s initial week, and car accidents. Stories of cheaters being caught out via Pokemon Go captured headlines, and people began complaining about the viral phenomenon. Pokemon even showed up on Hollywood red carpets.


Eduardo Woo/flickr.com

            One place people didn’t exactly expect Pokemon to show up was bookstores—but, much as the critters appeared everywhere else, so they appeared in bookstores too. Booksellers were initially surprised, and pleasantly so, that the app drew in more customers—and helped them sell more books.

            Some bookstores benefited from becoming Poke Stops—both in the game and unofficially. One bookseller offered people a discount on their purchase if they could show staff a screengrab of a Pokemon caught in the store. Some booksellers even stocked up on physical Pokemon merchandise and books, setting up displays—although early results didn’t show increased demand for Pokemon books.
            What remains to be seen is if the augmented reality game bears out increased sales for bookstores and other retailers. Pokemon Go has been lauded for getting gamers up, out of their chairs, and into the wider world to interact with real people in real life—even if they are playing an augmented reality game on their phones. They must visit real-world locations and they’ll meet other trainers along the way. Poke Stops are real-world locations.
            But if you’re out and about catching creatures, picking up virtual supplies, and meeting new friends, are you heading into a shop with any intent of purchasing their stuff? While the game might entice you to look around for a little bit and see if any of the ‘mons crop up, chances are you’re going to be more interested in Pokemon than checking out the shop’s real-world wares. And even if you are checking out the real world wares, do you have any money on you? When you went out hunting virtual monsters, did you think, “Hey, I might end up in a store so I better take my credit card in case I want to buy something.”
            Probably not.
            There’s also the fact that a large portion of the Go-ing demographic is under 18—which means their funds are likely supervised by their parents. While tykes might have their parents with them, preteens and teens may not—and they may not have any money on them either. So rather than being a boon to bookstores and other sellers, we might quickly see a backlash against Pokemon Go players, as more and more players bring no cash with them and simply spend their time running about a retail space, disturbing and discouraging other potential customers. This may be especially true in bookstores, where the clientele can prefer peace and quiet—even if some people do hang around and read for a while. The fact is that Pokemon Go has little do with retail operations, other than inviting users into that space. They’re not there to shop. They’re there to catch Pokemon. And chances are they’ll be noisy, disruptive, and overstay their welcome—without giving back a single dollar to the establishment.
            We’ve seen this before with another “nerdy” pastime: table-top gaming. Table-top gamers tend to be unwelcome at many establishments, precisely because they can be noisy, disruptive, and overstay their welcome—discouraging other patrons from coming in. The only real place you’ll find a welcoming space for table-top gamers is conventions and comic book shops. The same fate will likely befall Pokemon Go players; many retail spaces will stop welcoming them with open arms when they realize these people don’t have extra cash to spend—or, if they do, are spending it in-game instead.


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