Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Future is That Way: 5 Tips for Independent Bookstores


If I read one more blog about the DOJ lawsuit and Amazon vs. Big 6, I'm going to puke in my mouth. 

Ok, that's not true. Actually, I've been really enjoying the voices of both sides. But there is one group that is a bit under-represented in the "back to the old drawing board" dynamic that has arisen as the dust has settled. Independent bookstores. What are they going to do as the world is moving to digital publishing? (PW reported just today that Bookstore sales declined 4.1% in February. I'm assuming that includes chain bookstores and independents. Take the chains out, the number might even be higher.)

Well, here it is! My not-so-expert opinion on what needs to be done to reverse the supposed tide of doom that’s impending on the independent bookstore industry.

Aren’t you excited? No? Too bad, cause I’m going to tell you anyway.

In order to stay competitive in the changing world, independent publishers and bookstores need to:
  1. Change the paradigm. The shift from print to digital formats is a scary one because, for publishing houses and bookstores, the business is the printed word. If the printed word becomes obsolete, then the business becomes obsolete as well. That’s why my suggestion is to change what the business is about. It’s not about printed books, it’s about literacy. Publishers aren’t printers, they’re purveyors of literacy. Bookstores aren’t booksellers, they’re custodians of literacy.
  2. Understand what e-books are replacing. E-books aren’t replacing all books. They’re replacing mass-market paperbacks. Don’t believe me? Look at the price expectations of consumers. Look at the buying habits and the reading habits for e-books. It’s almost identical to the mass-market craze of the pre-digital era. Beautifully crafted hardcovers and trade paperbacks that have high-quality paper and illustrations, neither of those are going away. In addition, book tie-in merchandise (toys, posters, confectionary items, etc) also can’t be replicated on e-books (outside of apps. But, really, unless your book is about agitated fowl or horticulture vs undead beings, I doubt you’ll see that big of a plus side.)
  3. Don’t just create or sell a book, create and sell an experience
    1. Become a world builder for books. Entice potential readers to engage in books by immersing them into the world of the books you are selling. Host Greek god parties for Rick Riordan's books, or have a lawyer costume party for a Grisham release (if that's your thing.)
    2. Reward inquisitive readers. Have Easter Eggs ready to hand out to attentive fans. Not actual Easter Eggs, but treats to reward those willing to hunt for them. Like a fake cheese in the middle of the floor for Wimpy Kid fans. Fake names for all the staff members for Pseudonymous Bosch fans.
  4. Don’t throw spaghetti at the wall. Instead of trying to stock all the big titles, or a lot of different genres, focus on what you're best at. If you narrow your focus, you're more likely to hit your target. Like they say in The Patriot, "Aim small, miss small."
  5. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket either. Don't bet your money that you'll make a ton off the next big release. Remember, it's a good idea to have a few backup plans. Sure, plan for a big push, but plan for a few small pushes as well.

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