Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Can the e-Galley idea make a comeback?

Joe Wikert’s post the other day about Simon & Schuster's internal use of e-reading devices got me thinking about the possible resurgence of the idea of electronic galleys.

Two years ago, I personally phone surveyed about 30 book buyers from stores all over the United States. To a person, they all told stories about their love-hate relationship with galleys. They loved them because it gave them advanced understanding about the books that they were buying, so that they could decide whether or not to recommend them to their customers. They hated them because a. they couldn’t sell them, and b. because they were hard to store and eventually recycle. They seem like such a waste of paper.

One of the huge take-aways from that informal survey for me was that independent bookstores that survived the age of the internet, and survived big-box retailers, and chain superstores, did so by embracing the new realities, and directing their attention to things they could do that the competition couldn’t. It was interesting that many actually made their businesses far more successful than they had ever been before the large threats came along, simply by better engaging their communities.

Now booksellers (of all types) are facing another huge challenge, the possibility that e-book reading devices will gain real traction in the marketplace, and that sales of e-books may cut into sales of print books. As I have mentioned in another post, I believe strongly that the 'indies' need to have a role in the e-book world. The way it looks from my perch, it’s time again for booksellers to make a survival decision: be stalwarts against the new invader, or embrace the new reality and use it to their advantage.

My money is on those that will embrace the new technologies, and figure out how to leverage them into revenue. I’m not sure what those business models will look like yet, but I suspect my friends at Ingram Digital have some notions about that topic. But, one thing I do know from my years in ‘change management’, there are two necessary ingredients to developing a new business model: 1. completely understand the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) of the new product or service, and 2. Use the product or service yourself before offering it out to others.

And so, one way for booksellers to embrace and understand the new technologies are to to use them themselves. Using them for reading electronic galleys would be a great start to this process. There would be many advantages, not the least of which is the ‘green’ angle. Think of all the paper that could be saved, and the recycling that wouldn’t have to be done. It seems like a such a logical win-win situation for the publisher and the retailer.

I also think this is an opportunity for the American Booksellers Association to take a real leadership stand. Perhaps they could start to work with Sony, iRex, and other purveyors of e-reading devices, and get a few samples to pass around to their constituents to ‘test’. It would be a great first step in having a centralized approach to having bookstores (who want to survive) start selling the e-reader devices in their stores.

Food for thought.

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