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What happened to my Bookstore?

28 November 2012

From author and frequent visitor Randall Wood:

 Just the other day I found myself at the mall. It’s not my favorite place by any means, but when you have a wife and kids and a dog and a life, you somehow end up there on a regular basis.

The mall we visit sucks. I hate to use that term, but in this case it fits. For two major reasons; one; it has no bar, and two; it has no bookstore.

It does however have a Starbucks, so that’s where I usually end up while the wife and kids are doing their thing. I’ll sit at a table at the window and gaze across the mall with a highly caffeinated drink in my hand. My wife frowns upon this for some reason, but she has yet to outright protest. I counter this by telling her it gives me time to think of new subject matter.

There was a time when I enjoyed the mall. Main reason being that it had a bookstore I could browse for hours. Even as a kid, mom always knew she could park me there and I would remain safely in place until she returned. The price for her peace of mind was that I got to take home one or two of the books I’d found. A good deal I thought.

. . . .

There’s no doubt that e-books are a growing phenomenon. They’ll most likely be the dominant form of reading in the next few years. But I don’t see print going away anytime soon either. As I mentioned before on this blog, I see digital growing to a certain point and then slowing down, then, as the population ages, gradually taking more and more of the market. Unlike most predictions that I see, I feel this will take many years to happen. Within that time, we’ll most likely see several new ways to market both e-books and print books.

In this new world of publishing, what would the new mall bookstore look like?

. . . .

The new Kindle will be out soon and it wouldn’t surprise me if it had some form of scanner on it. If not I’ll be very surprised, because armed with such a device, one could shop at the e-bookstore.

I can picture myself wading through the legs of shoppers lounging in the various leather couches outside the store, each of them with an e-reader in one hand and a large coffee of some sort in the other. Why? Because Randall’s e-bookstore of the future has a Starbucks inside. I think this is referred to as a no-brainer.

I join the crowd at the entrance gazing up at the multiple flat-screens hanging from the ceiling. I skip past the Romance screen, the Non-Fiction screen, the SciFi screen, and the Bestseller screen until I find the Indie screen. I watch a few 10, 20, and 30 second videos for the latest thrillers to come out. It’s a new advertising medium that even self-publishers can afford. One of them piques my interest, so I pull out my e-reader and scan the QR code at the bottom of the screen. The code offers me a discount if I buy the book in the next 60 min, but I hold off as I’m curious as to what I might find inside the store.

I sidestep around the group of people crowded at the window watching the Espresso Book Machine crank out another paperback. It’s one of the new machines with the clear plastic covers so everyone can watch while it works. The kids seem to enjoy it as much as the adults, one little girl taps on the glass before pressing her nose against it.

“Make another one! Make another one!”

The store employee looks at the author, whose book he is printing for the very first time, he smiles and gives the go-ahead for another copy. The store only charges a few bucks, so why not? The young girl waiting behind him with the thumb-drive clutched in her hand rolls her eyes, her time-to-publish just got a little longer.

. . . .

I get my coffee and turn around, only to run into the store owner. His name’s Mike, he’s here every day, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him in a seated position.

“Hey Randall, when’s the next book out?”

“Two months, give or take.”

“Better book early if you want to do another signing. I’m full up till then. Did you want to do a coop display again this time?”

“Yeah, it seemed to work well for the last book. Thanks for pointing me to that vendor.”

“No problem. Gotta go, tell Jessica I said hello.”

“Will do, thanks Mike.”

Link to the rest at Randall Wood Author


16 Comments to “What happened to my Bookstore?”

  1. I proposed something similar in August (http://www.random-seed.com/2012/02/08/an-idea-for-a-book-store-of-the-future/), but in a much more clinical way. I like Randal’s description a lot better. 🙂

    Ebooks may not destroy publishers nor physical book stores, but they leave no room for error. Most people still want to put their hands on and peruse a book before buying it. The problem is that that bibliophiles have mostly moved to ebooks and small book stores didn’t have the head room to lose those purchases.

    A new kind of book store needs to be an experience – a lot like a Starbucks. It needs a smaller footprint (POD mitigates or even eliminates the need to keep book inventory – would still need a lot of paper, though). It needs a way to sell ebooks – on any ereader.

  2. I guess he doesn’t realise how much a good-looking 30 second ad costs to make. Not really something that fits most self-publishers’ budgets.

    But I do put QR codes on my Createspace paperbacks so anyone who sees one can find the web page easily.

  3. This was without a doubt one of the most enjoyable posts that I ever penned.

    For those interested I am working on a second version in business-plan format. I’ve recieved several personal emails containing some great ideas on how to improve on the idea but I’m always interested in hearing more. If something pops into your head please let me know.

    Its looking like five pilot stores, all located in major city malls, and the store content is maintained from one central proccessing location.

    It’s snowballing all on its own, I hope that results in actual stores soon.

    • Cool. Good luck, because it sounds like the kind of thing book stores need to survive.

      • Edward,

        I also thought that myself at first until I saw a short video by an author (her name escapes me right now) but she made a simple video of herself talking about the book she had written and her sales exploded due to it. So the good news is that a video doesn’t have to be Superbowl ad quality to be effective.

        Another thing I learned was that film, advertising and marketing students are sometimes given short films/videos as assignments. So many of them would be more than happy to split the cost, as well as the publicity, with a new author. It’s really a win-win situation.

        As for QR codes, I cant see why we don’t see more of them, I’ll need to research that more. Do you have any stats on that? How did the QR’s work for you?

    • Well, it sounds like fun. If you put one in Philly, I’ll visit!

  4. Like I said yesterday, I really think this is the wave of the future. Getting the start up capital and setting up the infrastructure will be tough, but if the stores are in modern, hip locations I really believe this would be wildly successful. I know I would drive out of my way to hang out there. I miss just hanging out at the bookstore and my writers’ group is always having trouble finding writer friendly places. You could incorporate writing nooks where NaNoer’s could reserve them for a small fee and have complete privacy and wi-fi. I know my group would be willing to spend a few bucks each for that.

    Geez, if I weren’t in the place I am now, I’d do the start-up myself. I have 8.5 yrs to retire and get a pension/med. benefits for life. Plus my writing and my side business already. Even if I gave up that business, I don’t know how I’d have enough time to devote to a full time business like this. Then if it really took off before I retired… Oh man, that would be great, but what a gamble. If I walked away from my retirement to early (I’m vested) I can’t claim it until I’m 60, so the venture had better work. If I wait 8.5 more years I can retire and do whatever I want… ARgh… so close!

    But there’s always investment possibilities…

    And you can check out some of those start up donation sites.

    BTW- Powell’s bookstore in Portland has an Espresso which they currently use. I don’t know how far they’ve planned with it, but given their size, I’m sure they’re thinking along the same lines.

  5. One of my first-ever blog posts a couple of years ago was titled: If I Had an Indie Bookstore. Mine was a cafe/bookstore combination with comfy couches and the Espresso Book Machine. POD books would have the option to be purchased bundled with ebooks. I keep waiting for a competitor to market a less-expensive variation on the EBM.

  6. I think this is an interesting idea. I have a few thoughts and suggestions. Don’t call it a bookstore. Your goal isn’t to replace Barnes & Noble. Your goal is to replace Starbucks. You are creating a place to hang out, an upscale, for-profit version of the public library. The mall isn’t the only place to be. The airport is another place this idea would fit (you might sell beer and wine there, sedatives instead of caffeine…). Speaking of airports, here is an idea I had for selling books at the airport. You sell them the first 30 pages on paper, and the whole thing as an ebook. The paper is to read during taking off.

    • William!

      I’m glad you jumped in as you always bring good numbers with you. 🙂

      I have a question I’d like to ask you, and everyone else for that matter, regarding the percentage an indie author would be willing to pay for the sale of their e-book in such a store. What is fair in your opinion? 2%, 5%, 10%?

      Obviously the store will have several profit centers, but the sale of e-books will be a main source of revenue.

      I like the airport idea too, I’ll be giving that some thought.

      • Great post, Randall.

        I agree with William, an airport would be a great idea to implement something like this, because you’ve got a literally captive audience.

        Last months I found myself stuck for several hours at Amsterdam Schiphol airport (which is one of the better airports to get stuck at) and as I wandered around the concourse desperate for something to read, I saw regular airport bookstores as well as some e-readers (Sonys) for sale at a gadgets and electronics store, but nothing that combined both. And I thought, “Why not have a kiosk where you can download e-books straight to the e-reader of your choice without having to pay the exorbitant WiFi fees charged by the airport?”

        But your idea is even better, because you’ve got a café, too.

        Train stations might be another place where such a bookstore could thrive, because again you’ve got a captive audience desperate for some way to pass the time.

      • Randall,

        You are thinking too small. Ebook retailers take 15-30%. But the real question is what can you give writers that they don’t get from others retailers. Share your data and the customer relationship. Is that YA book being sold to middle-aged bronies? The writer might want to know that. Is that thriller selling in the South, but nowhere else?

        Also, you need think hard about the experience. Amazon is successful in large part because they make the experience of obtaining books so frictionless. They have the closest thing I have seen to “think it so”. You need to have a reason for people to bring their ereaders to the mall.

        • My fault,I should have specified: the low percentage would be if the sales were in a partnership with Amazon or a trade publisher. If the sales were direct from the authors own publishing company the percentage would be within the 15-30% you mentioned. There would need to be some research done as to the best up-front listing fee and percentage of sale with the goal being to offer the best service/discovery option to the author while still beating the common royalty rates offered by the other various distributors.

          To determine that I need the input of the self-pub community. Example: A listing fee of $25 plus 20% of each sale. Would that be worth the expence to a self-pubber in return for the service provided? IE; exposure in all stores and listing in all store data bases. The ability to offer sales pricing for a set number of days a year, local, regional or national exposure packages, the list goes on and on.

    • It’s a BooKafe? (Portmandeu of Book Cafe, see. Klever.{tm} )

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