Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Bricks and Mortar Retailers need to be part of ebook sales

The overwhelming lack of reaction to my post yesterday got me thinking that perhaps, just perhaps, ebooks pose a threat to one of the crucial players in our industry.

It occurred to me that if I was a bookseller, I might not be too thrilled about the prospect of large quantities of ebooks being downloaded from the Internet, and bypassing my shop - and cutting into my sales. I certainly wouldn't want to hear about new devices that would enhance those opportunities.

Bricks and Mortar retailers play a hugely important role in the book publishing ecosystem. Aside from the obvious, that they sell books, retailers are responsible for starting much of the viral marketing that occurs around new titles and new authors. They take the time to read many of the new works in print, and tell other retailers about them. They create "buzz" where none existed and where publishers did not have the resources to make it happen.

Booksellers know their customers better than the publishers do, and are a critical link in the author-to-reader chain. They are also actively involved in the marketing of authors, providing venues for authors to meet their readers via book signings and lectures.

Ebooks offer great promise to everyone in the book ecosystem, except physical retailers. Even libraries have figured out how to use ebooks to their advantage.

If ebooks are ever going to be a truly viable economic opportunity, book publishers should really think hard about how to help booksellers be a part of the equation. I think that the publishers themselves should take some responsibility here.

Retailers have had to struggle with many threats in the past, most notably chain superstores, and online only retailers. Those that have survived those threats have learned to adapt the the changed playing field. And, this will continue... but, I'm sure that they could use a little help!

And, how can we attack a problem like literacy, if we are not all working together?


Joe Wikert said...

You've hit the nail on the head, Fran. It's all about one's ability to adapt. We publishers need to adapt to an ever-changing landscape where many, many potential customers are now finding what they need online at no charge. We need to create something that's better and more compelling than the free alternative; challenging, but not impossible. Retailers, on the other hand, need to figure out what role they can play in the e-content world. These next few years should be interesting!

Fran Toolan said...

I guess one thing I'm saying is that as publishers struggle with their digital strategies, they should consider the role of the independent retailer. There are 2 basic reasons that I think this is important:

1. If publishers don't consider them, and expect them to adapt on their own, then they will be an anchor on the process, holding back ebook sales, and potentially acting against them whenever possible.

2. At the AAP annual meeting last year, a guy named Peter Bloom, spoke about 'separating signal from noise'. His meaning was that we are all bombarded with so many messages (noise) that we need help determining what is important (signal). In the print book world, this is precisely the role that independents play. In other words, I think they can be the publishers greatest help, if the publishers help the retailers figure out innovative ways to profit from ebooks.