Here's a Guardian article, nominally about Waterstone's, a UK book chain ("When it started, Waterstone's was a breath of fresh air. But as it got ever bigger, many say it lost its soul. What effect has that had on publishing?"). Read it. It's a condensed history of how book selling changed.
There's a parallel story, too, of course: how publishing changed (mergers and acquisitions in the 80s leading to greater expectations of the bottom line from corporate masters) but we'll leave that for another day.
For now I'd like to focus on the bright light in this article: the new generation (well, okay, not a generation, yet) of independent booksellers. I suddenly had a vision of a corporation--probably a non-profit umbrella corporation, funded by the giving arms of multi-nationals--partnering with independents like Elliott Bay, Bailey/Coy, Seattle Mystery Books, Powell's, Book Soup, Tattered Cover, Mysterious Galaxy, Vroman's, Malaprop's, Charis, etc. to strengthen negotiating positions with publishers and distributors, pay for the little comforts that make a big difference to customers, and so on. Yes, I know this is what IndieBound, the independents' trade association, is supposed to do, but clearly it's not working. (Bailey/Coy just announced its closure. Elliott Bay is in deep trouble.)
This BooksellCorp wouldn't expect profits, as such. They would be paying forward, building a pool of better educated, well-rounded applicants for their future positions. Seriously. The war for talent has already started in corporate HR world (the recession is just a blip). This would be a way for huge corporations to ensure there are competent, empathetic, and civilised (readers are civilised people but, again, that's a discussion for another time) potential employees to choose from. It's also, of course, an opportunity to brand themselves favourably in the eyes of those potential employees.
So that's my reinvent-the-world dream for today. I'm curious as to how others see this. If you don't like it, what's your dream today?
Addendum: wow, it looks as though someone else thought of this--or a version of it. (Thanks, @bookavore.) This is exciting!