Indie Bookstores

Barnes and Noble results and the latest news from Perseus

15 September 2015

From Mike Shatzkin

The most recent Barnes & Noble financial results — which appear to have discouraged Wall Street investors — aren’t good news for the book business. They show that the sale of books through their stores is flat at best, as is the shelf space assigned to books. And it would take a particularly optimistic view of their NOOK results to see anything but an accelerating slide to oblivion for what was, for a time a few years ago, the surging challenger to Kindle.


The real failure we see at B&N, which almost certainly affected the NOOK business as well as the stores, was that the customer knowledge within the dot com and NOOK operations apparently has never been used on behalf of the store business. This might be blamed on organizational silos that ran these three components as separate businesses. The failure is otherwise hard to explain. How hard can it be, really, to dig up email addresses of people who bought a book by a particular author to let them know s/he’ll be autographing books near where they live sometime soon?

Or, putting that in terms Barnes & Noble should relate to, might you not be able to charge the publishers a promotional fee for doing that? (AND you’d drive more traffic and sell more books!)


The people who own and run B&N are plenty smart. Before the game changed and was complicated by the online option, they had organized their supply chain to give them real competitive advantage over Borders and all other book retailers. But they were tripped up by a combination of Amazon’s longer-term view as an upstart in the 1990s and early 2000s when B&N was an established and profitable company. This was a classic “innovator’s dilemma”, failing to employ a new technology to maximum advantage because a legacy position was being defended.

Amazon was willing to lose money for many years to build its customer base. That was how they could build their stock price. B&N was a profitable company at the top of their category. Profits were how they grew their stock price. This not only discouraged deep investment in the early years of online bookselling, it discouraged the kind of discounting from their online store that Amazon did. Both of them knew that discounted books online put competitive pressure on the brick-and-mortar business. That was fine with Amazon. It was not appealing to Barnes & Noble.


When B&N decided to go after the ebook market with the NOOK, organizationally they did it with a dedicated and largely independent effort, not an integrated one. That might have been necessary. But it also might have been B&N’s last chance to build on its one distinctive advantage: having a strong store base and a real dot com business. (Borders never had the latter and Amazon, of course, doesn’t have the former.)


But the time B&N has to change the reality that they can’t seem to grow their market share continues to shorten. The one big advantage they are likely to retain over their competitors in Seattle — who are certainly growing theirs! — will be a cooperative attitude from the publishers, who live in fear of Amazon’s growing power. But even that advantage has its limits.

Link to the rest here.

As a long time reader of Mikes blog I have to say this is one of his better posts. Some of this will no doubt be read by many here as information they already had, but the break-down is spot-on.

As for the changing landscape of B&N and its effect on the Big Five Randall views it as self-fulfilling. The dwindling shelf space at B&N will eventually lead to only the bestsellers being available. This will reduce the mid-list titles to an even smaller portion and effectively lock the Big Five into the blockbuster model for the remainder of their existence.

However, if you find yourself in sudden need of a birthday card, stuffed animal, calendar, scented candle and cup of coffee, B&N is your place for one-stop shopping. 

Indie Bookstores Aren’t Dead — They’re Making A Comeback

4 October 2014

From at The Huffington Post

“The Death of the Independent Bookstore?”; “Is the Bookstore Dead?”; “Why Bookstores are Doomed”: those headlines are from Slate (2006), Jewish Journal (2011), and Business Insider (2013). For years, journalists have made these types of predictions about the death of independent bookstores: if the chains didn’t crush them, Amazon would. If Amazon didn’t, they would die anyway because people just weren’t reading.


But around the time of that lament, a sea change occurred. Bookshops continued to close, but others began to open. In 2009, the number of independent bookstores in the nation stabilized at around 1,400, and then slowly began to grow. As of last May, the number of indie bookshops in the U.S. was 1,664.
Why the turnaround? Part of the reason was the long, slow implosion of one of indie bookselling’s biggest competitors: Borders went heavily into CDs and DVDs only to find itself competing with iTunes, and then outsourced its online bookselling to Amazon.

The company’s last profitable year was 2006. It filed for bankruptcy in 2011.
Other factors, such as the buy-local movement and an increase in reading among adult Americans, have helped as well. But the biggest reason independent bookstores are still around is that the store closures of the previous decade alerted people to what they were in danger of losing. Author Ann Patchett wrote that when the last two bookstores in her hometown of Nashville closed, “The Nashville Public Library organized community forums for concerned citizens to come together and discuss how we might get a bookstore again.” When I first read that passage two years ago, I was struck by the public reaction. A community wouldn’t respond like this to the loss of just any business.


As a veteran bookseller, Evans was eminently established and experienced when the funeral bells began to toll for the independents. But when David Sandberg and Dina Mardell bought Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Mass., in 2013, the conventional wisdom was still against the indies.
If you ask Sandberg why he and his partner decided to buy Porter Square Books when it went on the market, he’ll admit it was on impulse.

“We bought it without a particular rationale. We thought [running a bookstore] would be a great thing to do, even though we had never thought about it before. We just did it.”

But he doesn’t regret the decision. “We love owning a bookstore,” he says.

It’s obvious to Sandberg that the store provides people with more than just a way to buy a book: “The previous owners and their staff created a community. And the customers appreciate the expertise of the people who work here. They like knowing someone is going to help them, and that’s hard to do in an online environment.”

As for the business end? “The store’s never had a year when sales have gone down.”

Read the rest of this warm and fuzzy tale here.

From Guest blogger Randall.

If Self-Publishing is the new Wild Wild West, Who’s the Sheriff?

17 October 2013

Chris McCrudden on Publishing:

“I want to talk about self-publishing. In particular the self-published pornography that found its way on WH Smith’s website via the retailer’s partnership with Kobo, which was spotted by The Mail on Sunday and has since led to a virulent press and social media campaign against ‘vile trade’.”


“For me this episode highlights a fundamental tension within the eBook selling industry which is all about why being a platform is different to being a retailer. The success of platforms like Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing and Kobo’s Writing Life are quality neutral at the point of entry. They exist to scoop up a critical mass of content because they believe consumers want to deal with the platform with the biggest inventory.”

Read the rest here:  If Self-Publishing is the new Wild Wild West, Who’s the Sheriff?

Julia Barrett

Reasons to Read Indie Authors.

12 August 2012

5 Reasons Why I Read Indie Authors, by Wodke Hawkinson at the Find a Good Book to Read Blog:

“I still have my favorite traditionally published authors, the ones with famous names and recognized publishers. But lately, I have been devoting my reading time mainly to indie authors, those of the self-published or small press variety. And here’s why:

“1. Accessibility. Indie authors are usually very friendly and happy to exchange messages online with readers and fans. If you are an author as well as a fan, they are some of the most generous and supportive people you will ever meet, often helping you get the word out about your own books and stories.

“2. Quality. Indie authors get a bad rap about quality. I’m the first to admit there are some poorly edited books out there, but overall I have been very pleased with my purchases of indie books. (Besides, I’ve spotted quite a few typos in traditionally published books. Mistakes are not exclusive to indies.)”

Read the rest here:  Blog – Find a Good Book to Read.

Julia Barrett

Indie Publishers Criticize DOJ Deal

26 June 2012

From Publishers Weekly:

Nine independent publishers have combined to file joint comments objecting to the pending settlements of the Department of Justice’s lawsuit with Hachette, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster related to e-book pricing. The publishers noted that while they continue to sell e-books under the wholesale model, they have “benefitted significantly”–along with authors, booksellers and consumers,– from the ability of the Big Six publishers to adopt the agency pricing model with Amazon, since those arrangements, “contributed dramatically to increased competition and diversification in the distribution of e-books.”

In their comments, the publishers argue that the ruling would effectively ban the use of agency pricing at the three houses, something that would “harm rather than enhance competition—allowing one large retailer (Amazon) to regain a monopoly or near monopoly position through below-cost pricing.”

…..the publishers — Abrams Books, Chronicle Books, Grove/Atlantic, Inc., Chicago Review Press, Inc., New Directions Publishing Corp., W. W. Norton & Company, Perseus Books Group, The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc. and Workman Publishing– pointed to a study they did among six of their members on Amazon’s pricing policies. …..Using the average rule of thumb that the average wholesale discount is 50%, the publishers stated that “where it can (i.e., where there are no agency agreements), Amazon engages in widespread below-cost pricing.” It is the agency model, that by preventing Amazon from using its scale to price e-books below cost, that has allowed other companies to compete for the distribution of e-books “and for the sales of physical books through bricks and mortar retail.”


Read the rest at Indie Publishers Back Agency Model 


~contributed by guest blogger Kat Sheridan

From Jen Talty: Publishing is a Business of Business as Usual

25 June 2012
Comments Off on From Jen Talty: Publishing is a Business of Business as Usual

“and that is very bad.”

Over on Write it Forward:

“I have a fundamental problem with the idea of “business as usual”. Not in the sense that we have to run a business and it has to be done on a day-to-day business, but most business today are fluid and if you don’t keep up with the fluidity, well, for those of us living Rochester, NY it’s one word: Kodak. My father worked for Kodak way back in the day as a Regional Sales Rep for the Motion Picture Division and even then he said (mind you this is way back in the late 70’s) that if Kodak didn’t move with the times when it came to cameras they’d be a hurting company… Of course, Kodak was really a “film” company but you know there is this little thing called digital that seems to be turning many businesses upside down and inside out.

“Well, not my business.

“Bob and I have been in business together since December of 2009 (officially). Since then, we have changed or modified our business plan every 6 months. We just did it back in January and we’re doing it again this July (already making notes in Google docs for the Cool Gus Business meeting at Thrillerfest).  It’s exhausting and often times frustrating, but our industry is changing and we have to make adjustments or we’re going to go down with the Titanic (even though we got off a long time ago).

“Business as usual is a form of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results. Perhaps making a very slight adjustment like reducing print runs and deciding to remove DRM from eBooks. Well, I guess better late than never. Yes, I know, authors are screaming that I think smaller print runs are a good thing. How about lower advances? I once said that it wasn’t just publishers that had to change the way they think and do business, but that the author had to as well. Funny thing about change, most of us don’t like it. It took Bob a good year to wrap his brain around what we were doing. Not that I got there any sooner, but my perspective was different. I’d never been traditionally published and I read eBooks.”

Read the rest at Write It Forward.

—  Julia Barrett

This Week in Publishing…

23 June 2012

From Book

So, what’s going on in publishing this week?   I should correct that to say “What’s going on in publishing that I actually care about this week?”

It is 400 bazillion degrees in New York this week, and as such, everyone is cranky and everything is taking longer. For instance, even this blog post took longer, as this theme decided that it no longer wanted to recognize carriage returns, so I had to go all old-school and hand-write some hard returns so that it wouldn’t be the world’s longest paragraph. Sweet! In the continued saga of “publishing goes digital,” I have the following updates from the trenches, as it were:


1.  This week I had a weird “debate” with a person at a major publishing company about how they simply did not believe that eBooks should be priced below $10.   My reaction to this:   do you have a life-raft ?  You are on the ideological Titanic.  Publishers love to hate Amazon, but they sell a ton of books, and guess what?  They penalize you in the form of lower commission if you sell a book for less than $2.99 or more than $9.99.  To me, this means that Amazon will reward you if you stay in this profit zone.    Why on earth would big publishing not want the millions of dollars’ worth of market research Amazon is conducting every single day, I wonder?   Also, big publishing America, I would like to add that I talked to a New York literary agent this week who told me she just TURNED DOWN a $5,000 advance on a book for one of her authors because she wasn’t confident in the publisher’s digital capabilities.    Oh!  It burns!


2. I read this book, implemented some of this guy’s strategies, and am waiting and testing and recording results.  HOWEVER, I think he is absolutely insane for dismissing blogging and social media as a factor in author success.   I stopped reading his book once when he said “there’s no way Amanda Hocking blogged her way to success,” because I assumed anyone who would say something like that didn’t know the market and I couldn’t learn anything from him.  Well, my bad, he actually does have an interesting method (though, just to warn you, it is MUCH more complicated and time-consuming than it initially seems), but I still think he’s dead wrong about people with active blogs and social media.  Dead wrong.  Amazon will adjust its algorithm just like Google does, your books will rise and fall in Amazon ranking (after the first six months of your first book being out, you will quickly tire of this), and while this method may fall out of favor, you know what will NEVER be impacted be mysterious algorithms or whims?  A mailing list full  of your loyal followers and readers who actually want to buy your books.    I’m all for learning new things (in fact, I do it all the time so you don’t have to!), but it kind of bugs me when someone comes up with one theory, then dismisses all of the others.  This strategy, if you choose to learn it, should be PART of your arsenal of writer tools, not the whole thing.  Always be diversifying and building up that list!

Read the rest here:  Book Promotion .com

— From Julia Barrett


We’re going to give people a chance to buy books online from the local guy

8 May 2012

From the Burlington Free Press:

The walls of the windowless back office at Crow Bookshop are covered floor to ceiling with wooden bookshelves. Books are displayed on every surface and unpacked boxes, containing more books, wait to be opened.

Keith Terwillegar, the owner, sits on a chair in from of his computer talking about the store’s recently launched website.

“We’re going to give people a chance to buy books online from the local guy,” Terwillegar said. “I’m very excited about it.

Crow Bookshop is an independent bookstore located on Church Street in Burlington. Although the website is new, the physical store has been around since 1995.

. . . .

“Books are like food,” Terwillegar said. “Sometimes you want ice cream and sometimes you want a big hearty meal.”

In order to feed as many appetites as possible, his store offers a wide variety.

Although a typical day does not exist for Terwillegar, the bookstore owner spends his time at the store ordering books, pricing the books and working on the website.

. . . .

He has been working with books since the mid 1980s. Terwillegar said has watched the industry change as chain bookstores, the Internet and technology has become more popular.

“All of these things present challenges,” he said. “We just try to do our own thing.”

Terwillegar’s goal is to offer an alternative for readers. The Crow Bookshop’s online store provides a different experience than shopping at a large corporate website.

“We are not creating algorithms based upon keystrokes and mouse clicks to hone, narrow and define our customer’s interests,” he said.

Link to the rest at the Burlington Free Press

Here’s a link to Crow Bookshop

The Reading Renaissance

3 May 2012

From the New York Times Opinionator:

Satan in Seattle, as the walking wounded of the book business describe, continues to expand from the shores of Lake Union here, with nearly a dozen new office buildings housing the global nerve center of earth’s largest online retailer.

By contrast, a few miles away is lovely old Town Hall, a sanctuary for the written word. On any given night, hundreds of people show up to hear a novelist tell a story, a poet turn mush into sublime rhyme, an essayist make narrative sense of messy facts. Town Hall is one reason why the Northwest is known as a touring author’s paradise.

We hear that one culture must destroy the other. It’s inevitable: the books-to-the-barricades defenders of ideas printed on dead trees will lose all that they love to the soulless digital monolith on Lake Union, with its 164 million customers.

. . . .

But surprise: the apocalypse already came and went, and look who’s standing. One technology, the e-book, the biggest new invention in reading since Gutenberg cranked out a Bible with movable type, changed the world — most likely for better. We have more books, more readers, a bigger audience for words, on pixels or paper.

The problem, for those who are purely reactive, is that publishing as we know it will soon die. And so will bookstores that are no more nimble or creative than a socks ’n’ things in the mall.

. . . .

There are two big questions about the future of books and technology. One is: are people reading more and, by implication, buying more books? The answer is yes. In their annual report last August, the Association of American Publishers reported that overall revenues, and number of books sold in all formats, were up sizably in three years since 2008. Without e-books, the numbers would have been flat, or declined.

. . . .

Well then, what about the second question: the fate of the independent bookstores, those imperiled isles of words? The headline from a release by the American Booksellers Association during last year’s holiday buying season was telling: “Indies Defy Conventional Wisdom as Sales and Locations Continue to Increase.” The release quoted Oren Teicher, head of the association, as saying, “An array of factors are fueling the resurgence of independent bookstores.” Among those factors are sales of e-books by indies.

. . . .

If Amazon wasn’t inventing the future, somebody else would. And Bezos makes a good point in his annual shareholder letter when he notes that the Amazon Kindle e-book list is full of self-published authors represented by small presses. Many of those writers would never get their shot, defying publishing’s gatekeepers in New York, without the new format.

One author, A.K. Alexander, who wrote the thriller “Daddy’s Home,” says in Bezos’s note that she made more royalties in a month on her Kindle sales than she did in a year with traditional publishing.

Link to the rest at the New York Times Opinionator and thanks to Cheryl for the tip in her comment.

Passive Guy doesn’t know if he’s quite as optimistic about the future of indie bookstores, although he would like to be.

Built on Scarcity

18 March 2012

Another important essay from Kristine Kathryn Rusch provides a framework for understanding the clash between traditional publishing and self-publishers:

Traditional publishing, like network television, is built on scarcity.  In traditional publishing, “airtime” was shelf space. Only so many brick-and-mortar stores that carried books (of any type) existed. Those stores only had room for a certain amount of shelf space. Only a handful of books could fit face-out on those shelves. Several more could fit spine-out, but it’s harder to sell a book based on its spine than it is to sell a book based on the cover.

Because the shelf space is limited, traditional publishers only kept books with a fantastic sales record in print. The other books had a short shelf life before they were taken out of the stores and eventually out of print.

I called this the produce model, because I couldn’t think of any other way to express what was going on. Traditional publishers treated books like produce that would spoil because, in effect, sales do decline if a book has been out for a long time. (Sales don’t evaporate and in some cases, sales increase. But they will eventually plateau.)

. . . .

Amazon had unlimited shelf space—the abundance model, to use Kyncl’s term. If a book existed, that book was probably available on Amazon. Only readers weren’t used to buying over the internet, so they preferred brick-and-mortar stores.

As brick-and-mortar stores became scarce, readers went to Amazon (and and Barnes &—places that had books on shelves, and with a click of a button, those books were purchased and mailed to the customer). Amazon in particular encouraged this thinking by making its website user friendly, by reducing prices to nearly nothing, and by working very, very, very hard to make the entire experience consumer-friendly.

. . . .

Combining new and  used, like Powell’s and Amazon do, make it possible to order most books, in print or out of print.

Slowly, online book retailers were training the consumer to expect the abundance model.

But the traditional publishers still thought in terms of scarcity.

In fact, their entire business is built on it. The limited shelf space caused other issues. Over the years, traditional publishers had developed an arcane system of selling books. From returns (producing two books to sell one) to the distribution network (not selling directly to bookstores, but selling directly to distributors instead) had created a lot of unnecessary costs. (I explained some of this history in a previous post that you can access here.)

By the middle of the  previous decade, it cost at least $250,000 to publish a mid-list novel with a nice cover and an author advance of $10,000. At least $250,000, and often twice that amount. As in television, the cost of content was prohibitive.

. . . .

It is, in fact, the ultimate clash between scarcity thinking and abundance thinking. In abundance, you can toss anything into the mix, quantify its sales, and pick winners based on sheer numbers. In scarcity, you have to go with the best of what’s available, and hoping (praying) that you don’t lose too much money on everything else.

Everyone currently working in traditional publishing, from the publishers to the editors to the writers, learned the scarcity attitude. Everyone. That includes me. That includes any unpublished writer who tried to break in before 18 months ago. That includes agents. That includes book reviewers, copy editors, book editors, and the publishing executives.

Our attitudes got formed in a model based on limited shelf space and expensive production costs. On “gut” decisions instead of quantifiable decisions.

On the idea that rarity increases value.

Each book becomes precious. Each book needs time to produce. Each book must be perfect, because its debut on the world stage is brief, and its ability to capture an audience limited.

. . . .

In the world I grew up in, no reviewer would ever review a title more than six months old. What was the point? The book would be hard to find, and the reviewer would have wasted a lot of wordage (and column inches) on something that would only make his readers angry because they couldn’t find the book in question.

Now, since so many of us have our backlists up, book bloggers review titles as they find the titles. Just this week, bloggers reviewed books I’d written ten, twelve, and fifteen years ago. Other bloggers reviewed some short stories published in magazines five years ago and now available as e-books. In the past, those stories would have been forgotten. Now they’re being read—not by millions of readers, but by hundreds in the past six months alone.

. . . .

One way that [publishers are] reacting, for example, is attempting to limit writers. By making their writers sign non-compete clauses in contracts, traditional publishers are trying to recreate the scarcity model. Unfortunately, they can’t. They might make one particular writer’s work scarce, but they won’t make other work scarce.

In an abundance model, scarcity looks like a mistake. Consumers who expect everything they want at their virtual fingertips get angry when they can’t get something. We’re seeing that a lot with traditionally published bestsellers. For a while, traditional publishers tried to release the e-books six months after the print books. All that did was anger the consumer, who wanted their e-book now.

Traditional publishers thought scarcity—the lack of an e-book—would drive consumers to the hardcover. Instead, it made the consumers so mad that they actually wrote nasty online reviews of the books in question. Not a nasty review of a book’s content, mind you, but a nasty review of the book’s lack of availability.

Writers raised in traditional publishing make similar mistakes. In the scarcity model, having a publishing contract equals security. Traditional publishing contracts were (are) rare, and were (are) hard to come by, so a writer who had one had achieved something major. Writers who had more than one contract over the years had managed to prove themselves valuable. In a world of limited resources, when a major company spent those resources on a writer, that writer knew she had value.

That’s why writers saw publishing contracts as validation. And, as traditional publishers tossed books out into the produce heap, the writer had to prove her value over and over again. Because every traditional publisher relied on gut instinct as much as numbers (if not more than numbers, since numbers are so unreliable throughout all of traditional publishing), intangibles like a good review in a respected publication (like The New York Times Book Review) added value. Again, a good review in a respected publication was rare, scarce, something that didn’t happen often.

. . . .

All those questions writers ask about how to get noticed in this new world? Those questions come from someone raised in scarcity. Being noticed was important because your moment on that shelf was—by definition—short-lived.

Writers who understand the long tail know that the way to get more readers is to have more available product. Abundance works, even for the single entrepreneur.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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