Bookstores

Why Indie Bookstores Are on the Rise Again

30 September 2014

From Slate:

The recent news of the opening of an independent bookstore on Manhattan’s Upper West Side was greeted with surprise and delight, since a neighborhood once flush with such stores had become a retail book desert. The opening coincides with the relocation of the Bank Street Bookstore near Columbia University, leading the New York Times to declare, “Print is not dead yet — at least not on the Upper West Side.”

Two stores don’t constitute a trend, but they do point to a quiet revival of independent bookselling in the United States. They also underscore the shifting sands of physical bookselling, where the biggest losers are not—as was once assumed—the independent booksellers, but rather the large book chains.
Only a few years ago, observers projected that the rise of chain stores and Amazon would lead to the vast shrinkage of independent bookstores.

. . . .

The short answer is that by listing their shares as public companies, both Borders and Barnes & Noble were drawn into a negative vortex that destroyed the former and has crippled the latter. Not only did they become public companies, but they positioned themselves as high-growth companies, focused on innovation and disruption. That forced them to compete with the growth company par excellence in their space: Amazon. It also forced them to pursue high sales volume at the expense of inventories. Those strategies, as it turned out, were precisely wrong for the actual business they were in: selling books to a selective audience. Which is precisely what independent bookstores are good at.

. . . .

Barnes & Noble opened more superstores as well, but it also decided to challenge Amazon by developing the Nook at a cost of more than $1 billion.

The results were disastrous. Barnes & Noble bled money; it just announced earnings with yet another quarter of losses and declining revenue. Amazon dominated because it could spend far more money on technology than the chains, and because its core competency was in the disruptive technologies of e-readers, distribution, and inventory management. Amazon was never seen primarily as a retailer, and hence it could carry massive inventories that were a drag on its earnings and then spend billions on research and development because investors accepted Amazon’s narrative that it was a disruptive technology company redefining how everything is sold, not just books.

. . . .

Independent bookstores never had to answer to the dictates of public markets. Many of their proprietors understood, intuitively and from conversations with customers, that a well-curated selection—an inventory of old and new books—was their primary and maybe only competitive advantage. In the words of Oren Teicher, CEO of the American Booksellers Association, “The indie bookselling amalgam of knowledge, innovation, passion, and business sophistication has created a unique shopping experience.”

. . . .

Amazon’s sales have been strongest in mass-market fiction. No independent bookstore could thrive on mass-market softcover sales.  Instead, they do well with hardcovers, illustrated children’s books, cookbooks, and the like. And while indies cannot compete with Amazon’s inventory, Amazon evidently cannot supplant indies as shopping and social experiences.
The independent stores will never be more than a niche business of modest sales and very modest profitability. But the same is true for many small businesses, which makes them no less vital.

Link to the rest at Slate and thanks to Larry for the tip.

Local book industry concerned at proposed shake-up

30 September 2014

From Dynamic Business:

One of the more controversial proposals in the recent draft review of competition policy was its recommendation to lift parallel import restrictions on books, with the review warning this amounted to an implicit tax on Australian consumers.

The restriction prohibits the importation into Australia of a product by anyone other than the licensed Australian manufacturer or distributor, cutting off an important alternative source of supply.

Removing the restriction would see more books on offer for cheaper prices. The draft review, led by Professor Ian Harper, warned the continuance of parallel import restrictions would be similar to having a tariff in place because local industry remains shielded from international competition.

Australian consumers are also increasingly able to circumvent the restriction anyway. They can buy e-books or simply go online and have books shipped overseas from warehouses directly to their front door.

. . . .

He said the restrictions placed onerous limitations on the ability of bookstore owners to import products requested by customers. He said the restrictions also meant that the price of books was higher, forcing everyday Australians to pay more for their books.

“You could come into a bookshop, hold a book up and show it to them and say ‘I’d like a copy of this’. I would say, ‘I don’t have it. I’m not allowed to have it’,” Mr Strong said. “I don’t think the publishers understand it. I think they are just panicking. Embracing change helps business.”

“Lifting import restrictions is obviously better because you have access to more books and access to cheaper books.”

Link to the rest at Dynamic Business and thanks to Hugh for the tip.

Seven disruptive trends that will kill the ‘dinosaurs of retail’

26 September 2014

From Retail Customer Experience:

Retail has been described as the world’s “second oldest profession.” But that doesn’t mean that it is not changing. In fact, some of the most well-known retailers in their categories have suddenly gone extinct. The forces that caused these retailers to vanish are yet again evolving at an even faster pace. Darwin’s law of survival is even more relevant for today’s “retail dinosaurs” on the verge of extinction.

. . . .

Dinosaurs are the perfect analogy for some of the major retailers who have vanished in recent years. Many of these extinct retailers were giants that literally dominated their category or channel. Others were retail innovators in their own right, until they were outgunned by new disrupters. Longevity, size or specialization have NOT guaranteed retail survival.

. . . .

As we have said previously, retail has changed more in the last three years than the previous 30. There are at least seven major disruptive trends that are forcing retailers to adapt, and adapt quickly, in order to survive.

. . . .

1. Omnichannel is the new normal

The major force of change in retail is the consumer, who now shops anytime and everywhere. While stores remain a destination for experience, the consumer journey starts online. The successful retailer of the future needs to not only master online and offline, but how to connect with the consumer across many touch points, especially social media.

. . . .

4. Consumer experience rules

E-commerce giants like Amazon helped to kill off the previous retail dinosaurs based on price and selection. But, Amazon also created a new trend and high standard for consumer-centric experience and service. When consumers can shop anywhere for the lowest price, products become commodities. The biggest challenge for retail dinosaurs is a product-centric heritage of building big-box stores for displays. The number one reason consumers today say that they shop stores is for the experience and interaction with staff.

Link to the rest at Retail Customer Experience

David Mitchell lambasts ‘rapacious’ Amazon

23 September 2014

From The Bookseller:

Comedian David Mitchell has slammed Amazon as “benefit scroungers” in a barnstorming speech given at the Booksellers Association conference today.

. . . .

Speaking about the effect of the internet on modern life and business, he said: “Amazon is a company that has profited massively from this natural disaster of technological change that has befallen us in the last decade and a half, but they make it much worse than it needs to be because of the monopolistic, cynical and frankly life-crushing way that they operate. I think we tell ourselves, British people, that opposing things like Amazon is in some way cheating. Making books that will sell more in the way that most people would like to buy them (in bookshops) is somehow cheating and not behaving properly and denying reality. It isn’t cheating, we are free to do that. What is cheating is Amazon’s business model. They already have an enormous technological edge but apparently that isn’t enough. They also have to have a rapacious near-monopoly.”

Mitchell then went on to read a chapter from his new book, based on his columns in the Observer.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Taking on Amazon

23 September 2014

From Publishers Weekly:

Billed as a conversation about “Internet and Technology: The Good and the Bad,” the keynote at the New Atlantic Independent Discovery Conference (Sept. 19-21) at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City in Arlington, Va., focused instead on one particular Internet behemoth, Amazon.

That Amazon was the subject of the keynote was inevitable, given the strong stance that NAIBA booksellers have taken in the Amazon-Hachette dispute.

. . . .

“This is a bookseller convention, and the big topic is always going to be Amazon.”

. . . .

For Keen, Amazon isn’t all bad. “They’re not a complete catastrophe for publishers,” he said, adding that he thinks Google is more dangerous than Amazon. The biggest threat to him lies in how Amazon has changed the conversation and created the “cult of the consumer.” In the process, “the citizen” has been replaced by “the consumer,” who never thinks about the cost. “We have to stop confusing consumers with citizens,” said Keen, who also lambasted another idea promulgated by Amazon that we no longer need hierarchies. “We need government; we need authorities; we need editors,” he said.

Asked by Foer if there are any causes for optimism despite Amazon’s increasing dominance, Keen reminded booksellers that “no one can go back to the twentieth century. The world you grew up with or developed your businesses in doesn’t exist. The old world won’t come back again.”

. . . .

In response to a question about how booksellers can communicate the true cost of replacing citizens with consumers, Foer said, “we need to think of this as a movement” and advocated the equivalent of a sixties-style teach-in with celebrity authors. To which Keen responded that at the same time booksellers and authors don’t want to come across as being “very old-fashioned.”

. . . .

As to the possibility of a political solution, Keen referred to the “intimacy” between Silicon Valley and the Obama administration, which has been seduced by the cult of innovation, as making this unlikely.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

“Attention Citizens! You are not consumers. Beware the cult of innovation! The teach-in will begin at the boostore in thirty minutes. Attendance is mandatory!”

Isis Books and Gifts not changing its name

22 September 2014

From 9News:

Events unfolding in the Middle East have forced Denver-based bookstore Isis Books and Gifts to ponder Shakespeare’s age old question: “what’s in a name?”

Fortunately, loyal customers still frequent the bookstore despite a terrorist organization’s use the acronym I.S.I.S, or Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

“Isis Books, Gifts and Healing Oasis has been a Denver institution since 1980. We named our business after the Egyptian goddess,” ISIS Bookstore Owner Karen Harrison wrote in an email to 9NEWS.

. . . .

Though the bookstore does not share any ties with the terrorist group, some people have taken issue with the business’s name.

“We have had people comment on our Facebook page, ‘you should change your name,” Harrison said in an interview with 9NEWS.

. . . .

After nearly 35 years, Harrison said she is not changing the name of her bookstore because of terrorists.

Link to the rest at 9News

Bookshops are best route to market

22 September 2014

From The Bookseller:

Bookshops in the UK and Ireland must “invest” to become “the best in the world,” the Bookseller Association president Tim Walker has told delegates at the Bookseller Association Conference.

. . . .

Walker made the rallying cry for bookshops to arm-up in the face of digital and online bookselling, telling the delegation that bookshops were still publishers’ and authors’ “very best route to market”.

Booksellers will succeed by engaging better with customers and reminding them that “bookshops are still the very best places to discover books,” Walker said. “In this modern bookselling era of p-books and e-books, the world has not ended for bookshops as many predicted. Yes it is tough, but print book sales through bookshops are still strong and whilst it is easy to become distracted by the allure of digital media, we must maintain publishers’ and authors’ focus on the fact that booksellers and bookshops are still their very best route to market.”

He added: “We should reiterate our belief that booksellers believe in freedom, diversity, partnership and a profitable book industry for all. We all need this profitability. Booksellers must invest to make our bookshops some of the best in the world.”

Walker also called on publishers to print high quality physical books and make sure they put “authors back at the heart of our trade” by paying them higher royalties.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

July Bookstore Sales Fell 5.1%

16 September 2014

From Publishers Weekly:

Bookstore sales fell 5.1% to $707 million in July, according to data released by the U.S. Census Bureau. Sales were at $745 million in July 2013.

. . . .

For the entire retail segment, July sales were up 4.9%,

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Barnes & Noble Treads Water

14 September 2014

From Publishers Weekly:

There was a mix of good news and bad news in Barnes & Noble’s first-quarter financials, which the company released last week for the period ended August 2. On the positive side, B&N cut its overall net loss to $28.4 million in the first quarter of fiscal 2015, down from $87 million in the same quarter last year, with $50 million in cuts coming from downsizing the company’s Nook segment, which had a negative EBITDA of $4.6 million in the quarter, operating at close to breakeven.

. . . .

On the negative side, while a decline in sales of Nook devices was expected, sales of digital content fell 24.2% and sales through BN.com also dipped in the quarter. Klipper said that the relaunch of the BN.com website, originally set for late summer, is taking longer than expected, and rather than releasing it during the holiday season, the new version of the site will not be introduced until 2015. Reversing the sales slide of digital content remains a top priority for B&N, Huseby said; to that end, the company is offering $200 in free content to consumers who activate new accounts when they buy the new Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 Nook tablet. B&N isn’t interested in just selling tablets, he emphasized, it needs to sell content as well.

Although Huseby didn’t offer details about the planned separation of Nook Media (comprising Nook and college bookstores), he implied that there is interest in Nook from outside companies. “What we are really finding out is that these third parties believe there is value in the Nook consumer assets and the catalogue, and our Nook Press, our publishing business, the people we have there, and our software—and that value probably exceeds our ability to realize it, based on our current capital structure,” Huseby said.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG says when you’re firing people from the Nook division, you don’t get to keep the people you aren’t firing because everybody who is talented will go elsewhere. No wonder Nook can’t get its new website launched. All the good people are gone.

Barnes & Noble on the Brink

11 September 2014

From Hugh Howey:

You know you’ve had a rough time when flatlining is a sign of good health. That’s the news from B&N as same-store sales decreased a mere 0.4% when investors were expecting a 2% decline. Shares rose on the news. The loss of only $30 million this quarter was mostly made possible by slashing the investment in Nook, which B&N plans to divest itself of by next year. The latest Nook tablet is a modified Samsung device, in fact, as B&N has veered from heavily investing in ebooks, swearing them off, heavily investing again, and most recently . . . swearing them off.

I worked in a B&N while in college, and have spent many an hour in their stores as a customer. I’ve also watched them closely as a publisher, hoping they would help grow reading and the adoption of ebooks. In my view, they haven’t done much right in over a decade.

. . . .

The first thing I’d do is bring back the comfy armchairs. Remember those? A big part of my job at B&N was gathering the piles of books left around the armchairs and reshelving them (this task fell just ahead of collecting the subscription insert confetti around the periodicals).

Go to a B&N now and try to find an armchair. They have been removed. Perhaps the thinking was that people were reading and not buying, but that’s never how I used those chairs as a shopper. Sure, I left a stack of books behind (much kinder than reshelving them improperly), but I also purchased a stack of books.

. . . .

B&N has a long history of making decisions like these that go against the needs and wants of their customers. Shelving books according to paid advertisement is the biggest sin. We used to receive strict schematics called planograms (familiar to many sectors of retail), that instructed us where to place each title on a display. Compare this to the indie bookstore I worked in, where we were able to shelve according to regional tastes, employee recommendations, and actual sales rates. B&N applies the same sort of silliness to their Nook bestseller list, where the books readers want are often forced down to lower rankings while paid co-op space is provided to publishers in order to promote books nobody cares about.

When the customer of retail becomes the publisher, rather than the reader, you have a problem.

. . . .

What could have saved B&N (and what might work right now if launched immediately and with gusto) is a plan to embrace digital, not just in product, but in customer connection. If B&N offered a free audiobook and ebook with the sale of every hardback, and a free ebook with the sale of every paperback, they could get people through their doors. More importantly, the perceived value of the purchase would go up without impacting the actual cost of the transaction. Buy a book, get some electrons for free.

. . . .

Speaking of author events, why not have more of them? B&N seems to hate author events. Indie bookshops excel at these. Part of the problem is the ordering system. Have a weekly indie night where a local self-published author supplied their own books—these are then purchased through the B&N till—and the author is given a cash cut on the way out the door. No need to predict sales and stock books or return them. I tried this with my self-published books, and the B&Ns I talked to were unable to process how this would even work. No, they would have to order them in advance and return them. No flexibility or creativity. Meanwhile, coffee shops and art co-ops were able to manage this, and we all made out.

At my B&N in college, I organized reading groups and book clubs. What happened to these?

Link to the rest at Hugh Howey and thanks to Elizabeth for the tip.

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