I can't tell you the last print book I bought. Ever since I got a Kindle more than 3 years ago I've gone almost exclusively with ebooks. Despite that fact, I visit any one of several local bookstores at least once a week. I go there because I'm able to browse and discover products in a way that I simply can't do online.
My iPhone is always with me when I'm in the bookstore. Many times I've found a book that interests me, I pick it up and browse through it, then pull out my iPhone, open the Kindle app and grab the ebook sample (assuming one exists). I've even bought Kindle ebooks on the spot in a bookstore with my iPhone. I feel bad, sort of, but it makes me realize the enormous opportunity brick-and-mortar bookstores are missing out on.
I should also mention that I have several other bookstore apps on my iPhone including ones from Barnes & Noble and Borders. I've never pulled either one of those out while I'm in those stores. Never. Why would I? All my ebooks are in my Kindle library and none of these other e-tailers have given me a compelling reason to switch.
There's something the physical bookstores could do to stop me from constantly defaulting to the Kindle app: Build functionality into their own mobile app that makes me want to go to their brick-and-mortar store. Here's what I'm talking about:
- Use location-based services built into pretty much every smartphone to know when I'm in one of your stores.
- When I open your app and you've detected I'm in-store, offer me special deals which are only good for the next hour. Make sure all the deals are fully redeemable using only my smartphone app. Don't email me coupons. Push them into the app so I can just flash my iPhone at the checkout counter and be on my way without fumbling through my email inbox.
- If you sell your own reader device, don't make me bring it to your store for all this. My iPhone is always by my side but I refuse to bring a larger device just to get a deal. All the promotions and redemptions need to happen with nothing more than my smartphone. Plus, I probably don't even own your device. I'm happy reading my ebooks on an iPad today, I might switch to an Android tablet soon and I don't want to be locked into your hardware platform tomorrow.
- Most importantly, since I'll soon be using your reader app, not Amazon's, you'll know my reading habits...so focus the deals on the things I tend to buy.
- Offer specials on ebooks, print books as well as combinations. And don't forget about all the other things you sell in your store (remember the cafe!). If I'm standing in your store and I just bought the ebook version of the latest Mickey Mantle bestseller, make me an offer on the Major League Baseball preseason guide you sell in the magazine section.
- Take a page out of Groupon's play book. Use your nifty new app to track how many customers with common interests are currently standing in your stores. Push a message like this to all of them: "You're a history buff but you've never bought this great ebook about FDR. If at least 100 of you commit to buying it in the next 10 minutes we'll give you all a special discount of x%. Stop by the Biography section to browse the book and see why we think it's perfect for you."
- Surprise me! Use this app's services to make me want to visit your brick-and-mortar store more frequently!
Everything described above should be free to anyone. All they have to do is download your free smartphone app and create an account with you. But don't stop there. Offer a more exclusive membership program for an annual fee where I'll get even more deals than non-members receive. How about giving paying members access to lengthier ebook samples? I'd love that!
Finally, ask all customers to opt in to an anonymous data collection program so that you can analyze the results of all these terrific campaigns and use that data to create even better ones tomorrow. And don't forget you could also sell that information to publishers.
If you do all this I promise I'll start using your apps and I guarantee you'll see more purchases from me.