Archive for May 23rd, 2012

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012 by Bob Mayer
The future of bookstores.

Did you ever think you’d pay 5 bucks for a cup of coffee?

At a conference I heard an editor use the comparison of instant coffee versus brewed coffee when discussing eBooks and print books.  She pointed out that when instant coffee first appeared everyone thought brewed coffee was dead.  Brewed coffee is still around.  Her point:  print won’t die because eBooks are here.  I agree to an extent, but print is going to be hurting, especially hardcovers and mass market.  But I also take it a step further.  Not only is brewed coffee still here, Starbucks appeared.  They made buying a cup of coffee an ‘experience’.  Really, is a cup of coffee at Starbucks that much better than McDonald’s?  But you can’t get that extra-mocha, whatever, whatever, whatever (I get decaf, black, I’m boring) at McDonalds.  And it’s like, way cool, to be able to stand there and say all those words, like I really know what it means and really like this stuff.  I’m too intimidated.  We used to chew the instant coffee from our LRRP meals when I was in Special Forces while we were deployed to stay awake.  I think I might order some grounds next time I’m at a Starbucks.

I digress.  So Starbucks blossomed across the country, like zombies with aprons.  You can’t cross a street without hitting one.  But then the economy, like, collapsed.  Bummer.  And people have had to cut back.  And, well, $5 for a cup of coffee, started to seem like, of all things, an extravagance.  So Starbucks began hurting (join the club).

Let’s talk bookstores.  First there was Amazon.  Mail order book retailer.  There were grumbles when it first appeared on the horizon back in the days.  It took a slice of the market.  B&N also opened an on-line store.  Overall, though, the brick and mortar stores and the on-line stores co-existed, much like, well, the human race and the Borg.  Then Amazon started selling used books, which kind of sucked for publishers and authors to an extent.  You can argue whether used books sales take royalties from authors or find them new readers.

But then came eBooks.  A murmur in the distance as long ago as January 2010.  Now it’s a roar.  Borders is gone.  B&N is trying different.  Indies, first besieged by the chains, then the on-line retailers, are now attacked on all fronts, although in some places they are making a come-back and I submit those that are succeeding are following what Starbucks did.

Back to Starbucks.  Some smart people over there, right?  So what do they have planned to combat their eroding sales?  They’ve come up with an approach, which has a single concept at its core:  go local.

It seems counter-intuitive for a national chain to go local.  But what is becoming apparent in retail is that niche is the future.  For Starbucks, the décor of each store, rather than being cookie-cutter same, is going to feature local artists and furniture.  They’re going to cater to, well, the local people.  They’re reinventing the ‘experience’.

I submit where goes Starbucks, there might be a path for bookstores to survive. Become a gathering place for like-minded people.  But the real thing is:  Niche is the future.  Not only will indies have to adapt to their area, but for chains like B&N to survive, they must specialize and localize.  One size does not fit all.  All books do not fit all.

The Espresso machine is a lifeline.  Books will be printed in the stores.  So anyone can walk in with a thumb drive and print out their Great American Novel and give it to mom and pop and sell three copies to friends who really like them and put up with them.  But it’s a money maker.  Rack local authors.  People who would come in and hang out in the store every so often and talk to readers and interact.  Rack books about the area.  So if someone wants to know about kayaking in Puget Sound, because they happen to be in a bookstore in a town on the edge of Puget Sound, they can find a book about it.  We have to break away from the single buyer in NY determining what goes in every bookstore around the country (plus B&N just laid off some of its National buyers, which makes you have to wonder how exactly they’re going to decide what and how many of certain books to buy).  We have to get back to local buyers, who have the pulse of the area, who know the readers, determining what goes on the shelves.  Make apps where you can sell eBooks by local authors and about the local area.  Mirror your physical store on-line.

The future of publishing with eBooks and bookstores, is the key to the future of understanding that the retail outlets for books has fundamentally changed this year.  When the outlet changes, the business has to change.  And that means us, publishers and authors.

As writers, you really need to stay on top of the retail end.  Because if you do decide to go it yourself, how are you going to actually sell your book to the most important person?  The reader?

Something to think long and hard about is where could you place your book that isn’t traditional?  Jack Canfield did this and Chicken Soup became a mega-success.  He put books in stores that hadn’t racked books.  Your protagonist is a fly fisherman?  Perhaps contact those stores and see if they will rack your book.  Your book is about the Civil War?  Every major National Park reference the Civil War has a gift store.

We have to be innovative for the future.  Where do your readers go?  That’s where your book must go.