Thoughts on eContent, Free Content and Pricing Model Options
Guest Post from Anthony Policastro

Revenge of the Independents?

Indie I initially read this blog post by David Leach a couple of nights ago but I've been thinking about it ever since.  In his post, Leach speculates that the era of the big box book retailer is ending and the independents will rise again.

His argument makes a lot of sense.  Everyone's (supposedly) up in arms about big companies and corporate greed.  Additionally, we'd all love to go to a store that's the equivalent of "Cheers", where everybody knows your name.  You don't get that feeling at a big brick-and-mortar store today, so could the indies make a come-back?

Maybe, but I don't see it happening the way Leach describes it.  First of all, I have a hard time envisioning a bunch of new independents investing in and building up storefronts around the globe.  The momentum here still seems to be tilting more towards online than in-person, and that's where I believe the opportunities await.

What if there were a hundred mini-Amazons, each with their own area of specialization?  When I go to Amazon now I stumble across reviews from customers with similar interests but I don't really run into the customers themselves.  The experience is also completely void of any personal interaction.  Everything needs to scale, so it's totally automated.  But what if these micro-indies approached things differently?  What if there was more of a personal experience even though the browsing and buying is conducted online?

When I buy online I tend to look for the same primary benefit I do at a brick-and-mortar: who's got the best price?  I see myself evolving a bit on this front though as personal service is starting to mean more to me, even when purchasing low-priced products.  I enjoy reading sports books.  Could I be lured away from Amazon's low prices to a micro-indie site that has more of a personal feel, treats me like a human and not a credit card number, enables me to chat with fellow customers, chat about last night's game, razz the other teams fans, etc.?  Yeah, that formula could easily change my buying habits.

There's another key point in Leach's post that you may have missed when you read it.  He asks a couple of incredibly important questions:

What if there were no more bookstores and no more book-only websites?  How would we market and sell our books?

Wow.  Now that's an interesting scenario to ponder.

The obvious answer is for the publisher to establish a direct relationship with their customers.  That's always been a trick proposition though as most publishers are worried about alienating their retailing partners.  Even though I fully expect bookstores to outlive me, I also believe that publishers who expect to thrive in the coming years must figure out this direct-to-customer model.

Comments

Alexander Field

I agree with you, publishers have to figure out how to get to consumers. In the world of social media, it certainly seems as though the publishers of the future must OWN the social media in order to have a deeper reach to their customers. If customers go online, publishers need to be there to meet them, good service and all...so how can publishers use Twitter, Facebook, and blogs to reach their customers? Do they rely on the authors? Thanks for the post, just found your blog... : )

David Leach

Joe, thanks so much for reading and reviewing my post. You have some excellent observations. Unfortunately, I'm afraid I led a few folks down the wrong road: I wasn't predicting the rise of Independent Bookstores as we currently know them. I completely agree with you--I doubt that will happen. I believe the entire retail landscape will change to accommodate the tribes and microtrends that are shaping our culture, and that publishers need to figure out how to get books into all those non-book retail environments. You are right: the answer is in direct-to-customer, or something close. Thanks for your insights; I think I'll do a follow up post just to clear things up (you aren't the first to read "bookseller" into that post).

Book Calendar

I have always been a fan of the giant independents, Powells and Strandbooks the two largest bookstores in the United States. Amazon and Barnes and Nobles cannot match the experience of visiting either their websites or their stores in some ways in both quality and experience.

JR

I see possibilities for a slight rise 'Book Boutiques' in the spirit of the Monocle Shop or Fopp.

And here is another question for you...what if the bookstores become the publishers?

David Leach

Joe, here's the follow up post to Tribal Buying: More on Tribal Buying--I Didn't Mean Bookstores. http://consequentialvalue.com/2009/04/13/more-tribal-buying-i-didnt-mean-bookstores/

Oh, and JR asks a great question. I want to think that one through

Herbert Holeman

It's always an adveture for me whenever I find myself in Portland or Manhattan to spend a good part of a day climbing the stairs to the floors filled with stacks of books at Powell's or browsing the miles of books crammed on shelves, boxes, and binds at the Strand. Interacting with fellow book lovers and the folks who work at these two stores is a special treat, too.

Zoe Winters

I think it would be really interesting if we had independent coffee houses/shops that had the POD book machine in them. Storefront shops for books just don't make sense with all the expenses involved. Most brick and mortar stores even with the returns system make a very low profit margin. Logistically it just doesn't work anymore.

But if there were no returns to worry about, or no abolishing of returns to worry about, and customers could buy the book they wanted on demand... then we could have our "Cheers" environment.

I would LOVE to see indie coffee shops/POD book machines rise as a combo store concept. With bands on the weekends and book discussion groups during the week.

Now I want to start one.

with regards to JR and publishers = bookstores, that could work too. I mean the Gap has it's own clothing stores, why don't we have the Random House chain bookstore?

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