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Bookshop browsing vital for publishing, research finds

22 March 2013

From The Bookseller:

The crucial role of physical bookshops to a healthy publishing industry was underlined this week by findings from both Bowker Market Research UK and research company Enders Analysis.

. . . .

“The single most effective technique for dismantling the physical book sector would be to accelerate the closure of bookshops,” said McCabe. “We estimate that when a bookshop closes, about a third of its sales transfer to another bookshop. This means as much as two-thirds of sales disappear. Some of this spend doubtless migrates online, but much of it vanishes from the book sector entirely.”

Both McCabe and Henry agreed on the crucial role of bookshop browsing. Discovery still does not work online, McCabe asserted. “Consumers do not browse the internet as is often suggested,” he said. Enders Analysis estimates that serendipity and discovery generate as much as two-thirds of UK general book sales, much of this down to bookshops. “There is almost nothing that can be done to sustain the health of the network of bookshops that should be collectively considered too extravagant,” McCabe said. “Without bookshops, publishing would have to rethink its model at every level.”

. . . .

Physical bookshops were particularly important for the children’s book market and for male book-buyers, the Books & Consumers survey found. They also outsell supermarkets in genres including literary, classic and historical fiction, SFF, horror and graphic novels, and travel, history, business, biography and humour in adult non-fiction. The survey found bookshops were stronger than Amazon in genres including religion and MBS, business books, art, computing and fitness/diet books.

However, the research showed a higher number of books being bought from internet-only businesses than from bricks-and-mortar stores for the first time in 2012.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Bookstores, Non-US

22 Comments to “Bookshop browsing vital for publishing, research finds”

  1. They forget about libraries. I figure that when bookshops vanished from my vicinity, I resorted to browsing libraries for discovery.

  2. I certainly didn’t vanish from bookdom like they imply!

  3. I haven’t been on a bookstore in years, or bought something in one even longer, yet my pile of to-be-read books I’ve discovered serendipitously without them seems to keep growing exponentially. And that doesn’t even mention ebooks. These studies are wishful thinking at its worst, slanted because physical books still make up such a large percentage of the overall market. I wonder if these folks included strictly used bookstores in their calculations? Somehow I don’t think that’s the type of bookstore they’re trying to prop up here, even though I’d bet they aid discovery more than new stores.

  4. Total, unadulterated B.S. These “analysts” are recycling the same old disproven statistics that were in Forbes a month ago. Shorter Enders Analysis:

    We don’t understand how the internet works, so it must be broken.


  5. I also haven’t been in a bookstore in years, since Borders closed. Near the end, I was buying less and less from Borders anyway, because their selection seemed to be divided between Big Bestselling Trend and More Of The Same. There’s a B & N a little farther away from me from where the Borders was, but from what I hear, their selection isn’t going to be any improvement. The only other bookstore in town is a huge used books chain which I don’t patronize for various reasons (I hate the music they play, it’s impossible to find anything good among all the old crappy stuff, I don’t like used books because they smell funny).

    Yet somehow my to-read pile (both paper and digital) keep growing.

  6. Lol.

    Well, you can’t blame them for trying.

    It’s so sad that the advent of e-books has enormously increased reading overall, yet somehow stopped readers from discovering books at the same time.

    I wonder if that will create one of those time-space anomolies.

    Then, someone could write a book about THAT, which no one will be able to discover, and yet, oddly enough, everyone will read.

  7. I guess I’m the contrarian here: this article confirms my experience. Browsing in bookstores is my primary means to discover new titles to read. Of course, that heavily depends on the bookstore: Borders, towards the end of its existence, sucked in its selection. Barnes & Noble has sucked almost as badly in the last few years. And independent bookstores here — with the exception of Powell’s — have been going out of business.

    My second means of discovery is research, primarily combing through bibliographies of books. I do look at reviews (both print & online, although it’s been a while since I read a print review), but mostly as an exercise in gathering candidates that I will later winnow out. (“Word-of-mouth” doesn’t work for me for an idiosyncratic reason: my tastes in what I like to read don’t mesh with the people I socialize with at the moment.)

    Libraries are my third source for discovery, although maybe my primary means of obtaining books to read. Having a related book on the shelf next to one I’ve read helps, but all fiction (except Mysteries, Westerns, & Science Fiction) in my local library is arranged alphabetically. In other words, proximity doesn’t help me determine if I’ll like a novel or collection of short stories.

    With physical bookstores vanishing, I expect it’ll soon get harder for me to find books I want to read before it gets easier.

    • But the article isn’t making claims about Geoff, it’s making claims about the UK book industry as a whole. I am absolutely convinced that Fullers ESB is a better beer than Budweiser, but I don’t go around claiming that Fullers ESB outsells Bud in the U.S. My first clue was that Bud is on sale at every place in the U.S. that sells beer and Fullers ESB is sold at very few places. I don’t have to go look up beer sales statistics. Likewise, the claims they make are obvious nonsense.

      The worst thing about this article is that it will easily fool people in the book industry because it speaks directly to their most cherished values. It’s cheerleading masked as sober analysis. The Enders Analysis folks are guilty of malpractice. They either know that what they are selling is a lie or they are too incompetent to be in the business.

      • But how can you be sure my experience isn’t more typical of the average book buyer — in the US, the UK, or anywhere else?

        I saw one important datum in that article which argues my experience is more typical: “A total of 45% of purchases where the buyer hadn’t yet decided what to buy were made through bricks-and-mortar shops”. In other words, if a person has a vague desire to buy a book — but doesn’t have a specific title in mind — that person is more likely to go to somewhere that has a selection of books that can be touched, picked up, & browsed & choose one of those than to go online & select one from a selection of images & descriptions. There’s a psychological effect here: if I’m tempted to buy something, & there are a number of suitable candidates immediately before me, I’m likely to buy one of them. Online sales lacks this sense of “immediateness”: items or books offered for sale on a website don’t feel real, so there’s no psychological urgency to the buyer to act.

        Further, that buyer’s presence in the shop means the bookseller has a chance to upsell the customer. That’s something I doubt Amazon will figure out how to do successfully thru a computer algorithm. (And I suspect anything less than a perfect implementation will drive away more sales than gain sales.)

        Then again, this model, with its psychological & cultural underpinnings, can shift very quickly. If people start seeing stuff for sale on websites as immediate as they are in real life, they may succumb to impulse purchases. For example, there are people currently who impulsively buy stuff from the Home Shopping Network & QVC. But those examples of behavioral change do not promise a happy future, IMHO.

        • “A total of 45% of purchases where the buyer hadn’t yet decided what to buy were made through bricks-and-mortar shops”.

          It therefore follows logically that 55% of purchases where the buyer hadn’t yet decided what to buy were not made through bricks-and-mortar shops. This is hardly what I would call convincing evidence for the necessity of bricks and mortar.

          Further, that buyer’s presence in the shop means the bookseller has a chance to upsell the customer.

          I am, of course, not able to speak directly about matters in the U.K., but I can say that in my own experience as a book-buyer, the number of occasions on which a brick-and-mortar bookseller has ‘upsold’ me (or even attempted to) is exactly zero.

          • “A total of 45% of purchases where the buyer hadn’t yet decided what to buy were made through bricks-and-mortar shops.”

            “It therefore follows logically that 55% of purchases where the buyer hadn’t yet decided what to buy were not made through bricks-and-mortar shops.”

            Maybe. A month or two ago I saw a couple articles on a slightly different subject that I traced back to a BBC 4 radio show that had multiple guests including Victoria Barnsley (CEO of HarperCollins UK and International) who said that B&N had “released a statistic” saying that 40% of the people who came into a store would leave empty handed, go home, and guy what they’d picked out online. This was one of the first things I saw where a BPH was making the claim, backed by a statistic that appeared to agree with them, that the B&M stores were needed for discoverability. She then made the claim that “you still need a physical bookshelf to actually discover stuff.”

            So, if we combine these two statistics together (I know, doing that is fool hardy), then of the people who come into the book store not knowing what they want to buy, 45% of them find something and buy it, 40% find something, go home, and buy it from Amazon. Leaving 15% who don’t find anything that interests them.

            Except, surely before buying books online was an option more than 15% of the people who walked into a book store to browse without something specific in mind walked out without buying anything. I’m going to assume among the 40% who go home and buy online that none of those people knew what they wanted, otherwise why even go in the store to begin with? So we’ve got two stats being spun to prove the same thing, that we need bookstores for discoverability, yet it appears to me that both stats can’t be true.

            • Sorry, there’s no ‘maybe’ about it. You can’t add your 40% to that 45%: they are percentages of different sets. Here is how it breaks down:

              There is a set of people in the United Kingdom who buy books without having known in advance what they wanted to buy. Call this set A.

              There is another set of people, a proper subset of A, who buy books in brick-and-mortar bookshops without having known in advance what they wanted to buy. Call this set B.

              It is asserted that 45% of the members of set A also belong to set B. That being so, it is tautologically true that 55% of the members of set A do not belong to set B — which is what I said. There can be no ‘maybe’ about this.

              Now, you have the set of people who go into a particular brick-and-mortar bookshop chain in the United States, Barnes & Noble. Call this set C.

              There is another set, a proper subset of C, consisting of people who go into Barnes & Noble and do not buy anything there, but go home and make their purchase online. Call this set D.

              It is asserted that 40% of the members of set C also belong to set D.

              Based on this information, you conclude that 40% of the members of set A belong to set D. This is utterly invalid, because there is almost no overlap between sets A and C. It may be true that 45% of apples are green and 40% of pears are yellow, but that doesn’t say anything about the prevalence of yellow apples or green pears. You can’t divide apples by pears, and you can’t divide British book buyers by customers at an American bookshop chain. The two numbers are measuring different things about different groups of people in different countries.

              • Tom. You’re absolutely correct, of course, that I was using apples and pears. It wasn’t clear to me that the 45% number was talking about the UK. (If I’d gone to the linked article, I’d have known.)

                I do have one, not really a quibble, but clarification. Of the 55% of people who don’t know what they want and buy online, we can’t assume that all of them decide what they want to buy online. Some of them may have decided what they wanted to buy in a B&M store and subsequently bought it online. The people who are in the equivalent of set D, but in the UK.

                Obviously at least one BPH CEO in the UK would like us to believe that number is significant and quotes the percentage among US B&N customers as, if not evidence, at least an indicator.

                • Your clarification is, of course, true; but even if sets A and C are in the same country, we don’t know that they are the same size. Set D could be 40% as big as set C, and yet make up only 10% of set A — if A is much larger than C.

                  In the U.S., at least, A is much larger than C. What were the latest figures I read in another of PG’s posts? Something like 44 percent of trade books sold online, and only 19 percent through chain bookshops. Even if B&N lost 40 percent of its walk-in traffic to Amazon, that’s not a very big percentage of Amazon’s business.

              • actually, statistically and by science based evidence it doesn’t, prove that 55% of member of set A do anything. There might be various classes, various double blinds, various control groups. Conclusions cant be made unless we see the entire underlayment of the study and the data inline specifically, and the methodology for analyzing it.

                • I’m assuming, of course, that the 45% figure comes from a valid sample. If 45% of the sample is A, then logically, 55% of the sample is not-A. These numbers may or may not carry over to the population from which the sample is taken. Still, the accounts have to foot; P(A) + P(~A) = 1, by definition.

  8. Latest update: readers’ bodies will not be able to process oxygen without the big publisher-distributor-bookstore system in place.

  9. “Consumers do not browse the internet as is often suggested,” he said.

    I don’t think “the internet” means what he thinks it means.

    Edit: Hang on, I misread that. I thought he was saying that people don’t browse the internet very often. He’s actually saying that people don’t browse the internet AT ALL.

    Now that is truly inconceivable. I really have no idea what he thinks “browse the internet” means.

  10. Discovery still does not work online, McCabe asserted.

    Mr. McCabe can assert whatever he likes, but asserting something is very different from offering any sort of proof, or even a logical argument.

    Personally, I “discover” over 90% of the books I buy online (including some of the books I buy in a realspace bookstore) and I know many other readers who do the same. Books are very discoverable, in a wide variety of ways. I don’t think physical bookstores are going away as a group, but neither do I think their reduction — or even their elimination, if it ever did happen — spells doom for the book business, even hardcopy fiction.


    • I, too, discover most of the books I buy online. What I often don’t do is discover them at the online retailer where I buy them. At least half the books I buy are either recommended by an online acquaintance, or reviewed in a blog that I read, or else I read the author’s blog and am interested enough to try some of that author’s books.

      • Tom — me too. I know a lot of people browse the Amazon bestseller lists or whatever, but I do my discovering the same way you do, and most of the people who read in my genre (who talk about it at all) do the same.


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