If there's one thing publishers need to understand, it is that most book buyers are disengaged and only buy one to five books a year. This means there is a massive number of adults out there who read intermittently and probably don't care about loyalty programs, author websites or three-for-the-price-of-two sales.
Boy, that last part really hurts, but it makes sense. If there's no way to change this behavior with print books, perhaps we have to focus our efforts on how to address it with econtent. Can customers become more engaged if the content is richer and, dare I say it, shorter, as in "more to the point and less about puffing the book up for spine width"?
...under-performing superstores do close as well: Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million and Borders Group closed more than 500 locations in the past six years. Meanwhile, Walmart and Target locations (as well as other non-bookstore entities) have been multiplying. On a very basic level, these stores are a lot more convenient for the disengaged customer who only buys a book once in a while.
Terrific observations. Are the B&N and Borders superstores becoming the new independents? They're not going away, and neither did the independents (entirely), but it's interesting to watch the superstores being forced to evolve by mass outlets.
When a book from a popular author is sold everywhere, it behaves like a commodity when it really isn't. If you go into a Walmart and ask an employee for "Hatchet" by Gary Paulsen, you'll be lucky if that person points you to the camping aisle and mumbles something about having one from Coleman.
OK, this is that 5% of the article that I don't agree with. I get Norris' point, sort of, but I don't buy into the notion that "channel-stuffing of blockbuster books is cheapening what should be the most expensive product," as he states a bit earlier in the column. To use a different product analogy, this is why I sometimes buy auto parts (e.g., oil and filters) at Walmart and for other items I go to AutoZone, where I know I'll get the personal assistance I need. I'm typically buying commodities in both places, btw. For me it's all about convenience rather than commodities; I'm in Walmart several times a week, so as a supplier if I can get my products stocked there I'd gladly eat a few extra discount points for all the extra foot traffic!
P.S. -- I'm part of a Book Publishing panel that's been pitched for SXSW. The fabulous Kat Meyer is also on the panel (along with several other terrific industry experts) and provides more of the details here. Speaking for the entire panel, we'd greatly appreciate it if you'd cast your vote supporting our session here.