How to sell tech books in a physical bookstore

I am leaning towards the opinion that it is pointless to keep a tech book assortment in a physical bookstore, as the target audience is going to buy their books online and tech books run out of date so quickly that they probably are an inventory headache.

There is a large general bookstore called Selexyz in Rotterdam. By all appearances, the least likely place where to look for an interesting tech book assortment. But this particular store seems to have given some thought to what they would put in stock.

Here is a sample of what they had on display: the latest edition of a well-known book (Bulletproof CSS by Dan Cederholm! There’s a new edition out! I didn’t know it!), recent shorter O’Reilly books about trendy technologies (Cassandra, Mining the Social Web) and a selection of the weightier Manning tomes on similar subjects (since Manning does not do shorter formats as O’Reilly), like Erlang/OTP, and Lift. Some classics like the Gang of Four book and Martin Fowler’s Domain Specific Languages and even an academic book on Information Retrieval and collection of Donald Knuth’s writings on games.

Thye must have hired someone who knows his or her stuff: while most shops of this kind make a weak attempt at some sort of comprehensive reference (one book about C++, one book about Java, one book about PHP, and so on), here it feels like they are attempting to target Hacker News reader impulse buys. There are a lot new, half of them relatively short books on buzzword topics. You might not have ordered them from Amazon yet or bought the eBook; but if you see them on the shelf you might be tempted to take them home with you.

There is still room for experimenting in physical retail stores. Even if I believe that tech books will shortly be published almost exclusively on the web and tech publishers will become editing consultants, it’s good to remember that the alternative is not necessarily either jumping on the new technology or remaining stuck in the old ways, but there are ways to adapt the old technology to compete with the new.