Let’s get one thing straight. I love, love, LOVE bookstores. And I love them ALL.
I love indie bookstores with their fierce intellectual passion for all things BOOK. I love the dusty, dim and cluttered used bookstores with their slightly musty moldy smells and totally unpredictable inventory. I love the big mega Barnes and Noble or Books-A-Million bookstores with their mind-boggling physical inventory of titles I never knew I might want to read until I walked through their front door…not to mention the magazines I never knew existed before I perused their massive periodical sections. And yes, I do love Amazon too. But not for the cheaper prices everyone keeps harping on about. I love Amazon for the incredible convenience; the ability to find and buy just about any book or ebook at any time of day in any weather from any location where I can get a Verizon signal on my iPhone.
I mean, I’m sorry all you Amazon haters and industry doomsayers, but it CANNOT be a bad thing for readers to be able to purchase books just about whenever/wherever the impulse hits.
One experienced editor from a well-established, mid-sized publishing house explained it like this (though I am paraphrasing): With the rise of Amazon and eBooks, the average consumer is reading more. People who purchased 5-10 books in 2006 purchased 10-20 books in 2011. Someone who bought only one book in 2006 probably bought two books in 2011. In other words, there has been substantial growth in the industry in the past few years and there is a huge potential for more growth. Unfortunately, everyone keeps focusing on the sectors of the industry that are experiencing declining sales instead of the new frontiers of potential.
Which doesn’t surprise me.
An alluring image of book browsing bliss. And yet...where are the customers? Photo by juhansonin
Bookstores, I love you. I really, really, REALLY do love you. But it’s time for some more tough love from Slay the Writer.
I want to browse your aisles and read your thoughtful recommendation cards. I want to continue to spend my hard-earned money at your cash registers. Not only that, as a writer, I want to create a product that will sell well for you. I want to find readers among those who walk through your front doors and I want to send potential readers to your place of business. I want the whole industry, including each and every one of you, to not just survive, I want you to THRIVE in a bright new evolution of the business.
- I do not want to spend money at your establishment because it is my civic duty.
- I do not want to treat your business as a charity.
- I do not want you to become book museums relying on the kindness of a few enlightened readers to keep your doors open.
Therefore, it sort of sets my teeth on edge when I walk into a new indie bookstore excited to dive into a bookish bonanza only to be confronted with signage admonishing me to KEEP OUR DOORS OPEN, or BUY HERE, BUY NOW, BUY LOCAL, or WHY BUYING ONLINE HURTS OUR COMMUNITY. Good grief!!!
It is YOUR job to keep your own door open with a solid business plan that successfully woos my hard-earned dollars out of my hand. It’s not a difficult thing to entice and bedazzle me (or many thousands of readers and writers like me) into a book buying binge. I swear, I think my Visa and my debit card jump out of my wallet and run screaming toward the cash register begging for mercy as soon as I spot an open bookstore. Focus on my adoration, my outright bat-crazy addiction for books, my desire for lovely, escapist literary interludes. You will win my dollars. Easily.
I know every aspect of the publishing industry is evolving in ways that seem threatening, dangerous and absolutely terrifying to those who want to cling to the old, comfortable business model.
That said, I wish all independent booksellers would take a lesson from Star Wars:
“Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will…”
Stop spewing your anger and hatred of Amazon’s business tactics. Stop fearing your opponent so openly. Stop attacking potential new customers who might just have a Kindle hiding in their purse. Start exploring your strengths and exploiting your competitor’s weaknesses.
Now…let’s talk about the new universe possibilities!
I read this post on The Bookstore of the Future last week and since then my brain has been bubbling and boiling with inspiration, ideas…so many lovely possibilities!
Take a moment to read the post. Go on. I’ll wait here. Don’t fake it. Read the whole thing! And don’t fail to watch the lovely Day of Glass video at the end. It is absolutely magical.
I love the optimism and simple innovative thinking in that post. In my next post, I’ll be taking you to MY personal version of the Bookstore of the Future. I have a few twists and tweaks to add to her basic premise. But that’s for my PART TWO (coming soon).
Now tell me, what do you LOVE about the old bookstore business model? What are they doing wrong? What do you fear about the brave new world of 21st century bookselling? Do you think it’s a foregone conclusion that bricks and mortar stores will never be profitable icons of business success? Or should bookstores give up on the for-profit business model and move to a fundraising, PBS-type, not-for-profit model to keep those doors open?
Before I sign off, are there any fans of the British comedy Black Books out there? Let’s take a moment to celebrate the really cranky, smug, totally disinterested in customer service booksellers of the world (because, yes, I DO love them too). Here’s a montage of scenes showing bookstore owner Bernard interacting with his customers: