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What happened to my Bookstore?*
August 27, 2012
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*Update at the bottom of the post

Just the other day I found myself at the mall. It’s not my favorite place by any means, but when you have a wife and kids and a dog and a life, you somehow end up there on a regular basis.

The mall we visit sucks. I hate to use that term, but in this case it fits. For two major reasons; one; it has no bar, and two; it has no bookstore.

It does however have a Starbucks, so that’s where I usually end up while the wife and kids are doing their thing. I’ll sit at a table at the window and gaze across the mall with a highly caffeinated drink in my hand. My wife frowns upon this for some reason, but she has yet to outright protest. I counter this by telling her it gives me time to think of new subject matter.

There was a time when I enjoyed the mall. Main reason being that it had a bookstore I could browse for hours. Even as a kid, mom always knew she could park me there and I would remain safely in place until she returned. The price for her peace of mind was that I got to take home one or two of the books I’d found. A good deal I thought.

But I haven’t seen a bookstore in a mall for some time. The airport has one, (along with several bars) but not the mall. So that got me thinking.

There’s no doubt that e-books are a growing phenomenon. They’ll most likely be the dominant form of reading in the next few years. But I don’t see print going away anytime soon either. As I mentioned before on this blog, I see digital growing to a certain point and then slowing down, then, as the population ages, gradually taking more and more of the market. Unlike most predictions that I see, I feel this will take many years to happen. Within that time, we’ll most likely see several new ways to market both e-books and print books.

In this new world of publishing, what would the new mall bookstore look like?

I have some ideas.

The new Kindle will be out soon and it wouldn’t surprise me if it had some form of scanner on it. If not I’ll be very surprised, because armed with such a device, one could shop at the e-bookstore.

I can picture myself wading through the legs of shoppers lounging in the various leather couches outside the store, each of them with an e-reader in one hand and a large coffee of some sort in the other. Why? Because Randall’s e-bookstore of the future has a Starbucks inside. I think this is referred to as a no-brainer.

I join the crowd at the entrance gazing up at the multiple flat-screens hanging from the ceiling. I skip past the Romance screen, the Non-Fiction screen, the SciFi screen, and the Bestseller screen until I find the Indie screen. I watch a few 10, 20, and 30 second videos for the latest thrillers to come out. It’s a new advertising medium that even self-publishers can afford. One of them piques my interest, so I pull out my e-reader and scan the QR code at the bottom of the screen. The code offers me a discount if I buy the book in the next 60 min, but I hold off as I’m curious as to what I might find inside the store.

I sidestep around the group of people crowded at the window watching the Espresso Book Machine crank out another paperback. It’s one of the new machines with the clear plastic covers so everyone can watch while it works. The kids seem to enjoy it as much as the adults, one little girl taps on the glass before pressing her nose against it.

 “Make another one! Make another one!”

 The store employee looks at the author, whose book he is printing for the very first time, he smiles and gives the go-ahead for another copy. The store only charges a few bucks, so why not? The young girl waiting behind him with the thumb-drive clutched in her hand rolls her eyes, her time-to-publish just got a little longer.

Entering the store, I slip through the crowd, being careful not to bump into people as they are all walking around with their eyes on the small screens in their hands. Good thing they pad the corners of the shelves and displays. One of the customers has an e-reader he’s borrowed from the store. He must have forgotten to bring his, or he shares one with his wife. No problem though, the store clerk linked the loaner to his Amazon account, so he’s good-to-go.

The Indie section seems to get bigger every time I come in. Since the prices are so reasonable, more and more Indies can afford to promote their books here. Some people are browsing through a display of ads the size of greeting cards. Some have QR codes, and some don’t. Usually it’s just a picture of the book, a blurb, a bio, and a scanable link to a website. But it’s where people go to find the new authors just coming onto the scene. For authors willing to spend a few more bucks there are flat-screen monitors with libraries of books in every genre. People flick through the pages, stopping here and there when they see something interesting. Some have a link to a short video like those I saw outside. One woman scans a buy code and purchases a YA book. It’s the same price she would pay online at home, only in this case a small percentage of the sale goes to the store, but it’s still a healthy royalty for the author. She moves down the aisle toward the Romance section, obviously done with her gift shopping, she’s now looking for a book for herself.

The posters on the walls have all changed since I was last here. I saw a couple of them in the Miami store when I was there last week, those authors must have optioned for the regional or nationwide ad packages. The store rotates them often to keep the prices down and give the new authors a chance. I look over a few as I walk past the audio section. One woman adjusts her hearing aid before she steps into one of the booths to sample a few books. She pokes the screen and adjusts the font to fit her poor vision before tapping her way to a bestseller. Hitting play, she sits back and listens to the sample for a few minutes. She’s of an age group that didn’t grow up with computers, but the touch-screen is self-explanatory and user friendly, so she’s soon a pro.

I wander on and step through a divider to enter the back of the store. It’s quieter here and I see a new author doing a book signing. The store owner is there also, hovering nearby in case she needs some support. He spots me across the room and gives me the guy nod. The author doing the signing is a young girl, nervous but doing fine. The crowd seems to be half fans and half fellow writers who want to pick her brain. She fields questions from both, but wisely stops to give full attention to her fans. She even has a free short story she’s handing out with each signed book. Somebody gave her some good advice. The authors all wait politely, sipping their coffee and wishing they were in her shoes. One of them browses a screen dedicated to author resources; he’s reading editor resumes and looking at sample cover art. You can almost see the book taking shape in his head. The whole scene gives me a warm fuzzy. I check the chalkboard and see that the week is fully booked, with a different author every night. Good for them.

I turn around and almost run into a display of new e-readers and their assorted accessories. I force myself to walk past them. The wife would kill me. We already have four in the house.

I wander the shelves and examine the print copies; none of them are for sale, they’re simply there for display purposes. If I want one the staff will just print me a brand new one with the Espresso machine. Or I can just scan the code on the back and buy it as an e-book. No warehousing, no returns. No brainer.

I reach the thriller section and am lucky enough to find a vacant screen. I narrow my search to a few sub-genre and the algorithms throw out some suggestions at the bottom. I add some keywords and the selection narrows. I see that Dan Dewitt has published a new zombie novel, so I check it out. I punch the video tag and am treated to his smiling mug, cigar and all, talking about the book. He’s a natural salesman, so I hit the buy button with a smile of my own and move on.

Ten minutes later I have two books for myself and one for my nephew. My wife’s mailing him a physical gift also, so I head up to the checkout counter. I present the clerk with the book I want to gift and he soon has it scanned onto the gift card that I also picked out. All my nephew will need to do is type in the code or scan it with his e-reader and the book is his.

I stop and order a coffee from the Starbucks counter. They serve some food items too; you can eat every one of them with one hand. While I’m waiting I watch a trailer for a popular book that Hollywood decided to make into a movie. The trailer ends by informing me that the book is available in the store and the movie is playing in the mall theater. I already know this as my kids are watching it right now, but I like the fact that the theater and the bookstore are supporting each other.

The mismatched couple sitting at the table next to me aren’t a couple, I eavesdrop long enough to determine that they’re an author and a cover artist going over plans for her new book. The table is covered in sample ideas and they move them around a lot. The store is bringing a lot of people together. At the table next to them the subject is video.

I get my coffee and turn around, only to run into the store owner. His name’s Mike, he’s here every day, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him in a seated position.

“Hey Randall, when’s the next book out?”

“Two months, give or take.”

“Better book early if you want to do another signing. I’m full up till then. Did you want to do a coop display again this time?”

“Yeah, it seemed to work well for the last book. Thanks for pointing me to that vendor.”

“No problem. Gotta go, tell Jessica I said hello.”

“Will do, thanks Mike.”

“Anytime.”

I move outside to one of the couches and settle in. Dan soon has me fighting zombies through a suburban shopping mall. Coincidence? I hope so.

A few chapters later I feel a hand on my shoulder and I flinch. My wife pulls me out of the book and back into the real world.

“Zombies again honey?”

“Yeah.”

She loads me up with her purchases and we make our way toward the movie theater to fetch the kids.

“Bookstore seems to be doing well,” she comments.

“Yup, and just think; it’s living on advertising fees, author services, book sales, and coffee.”

“Just like a bookstore should, who would have thought?”

 “Yeah, now if we could just get a damn bar in this mall.”

“Or perhaps a bar-bookstore?”

“Now you’re talking.”

But sadly, right now this is all just a figment of my imagination. Will it ever become reality? Who’s to say? Is it feasible? I’m not a techy, but I don’t really see any reason why it wouldn’t be. I don’t think I’ve described anything that would require a Starfleet engineer to set-up or maintain. In fact, I’m fairly sure all of the needed technology exists already.

But I have some questions for my fellow self-publishers;

Would you take advantage of these marketing ideas I’ve described?

Would you buy space on a card, or a poster, or maybe a flat-screen monitor, to advertise your book? Locally, regionally, or nationally?

Would you make use of QR codes that link to short videos about your book?

Would you hire someone, or maybe barter services, to make you a 30 second film pushing your latest novel if you both knew you could get it shown at such a store?

Would you market your book on gift cards, how about ones similar to lottery tickets with a scratch-off code?

Would you be willing to give up 2% or more of your profit to a store like the one I described?

Would you make use of an Espresso Book Machine if there was one close to you, even if it was just for a proof copy?

Would you do a book signing at such a store?

If you knew they were vetted, would you utilize a database of local (or not) editors, cover artists, film makers, formatters, marketers, and proofreaders kept and maintained by your local bookstore?

I would.

But until it does happen, I guess I’m stuck at Starbucks, gazing out the window, with only the thoughts in my head for company.

 

 Some related articles;

Gift Cards

Espresso Book Machine

Future Book Store

Reinventing the Community Bookstore

 

UPDATE:

As fate would have it, Mike Statzkin posted a blog entry today (the same day as my post above) that touched on the subject of the future bookstore.

If you aren’t familiar with Mike you should be. He’s a publishing insider who’s been in the business for some time and his experience, insight, and willingness to share make him a valuable source of information on the world of trade publishing. I don’t always agree with his views, but he’s had a link on this website from day one. For Mike Stazkin blog click here and see the full article there.

He covered several different points,  but I’ll steer you to these two quotes in particular;

The publishers are well aware that their ecosystem has changed and that they have to change too.”

and

One thing that will be different but similar in the rest of the world will be the decline of bookstores. Retail price maintenance and the fact that in many markets publishers own the bookstores will definitely slow the process down compared to what we’ve seen in the US and the UK, but if the sales move from stores to online (and ebooks will compel that, despite some elaborate schemes and fantasies to preserve a place for stores to sell digital), the stores can’t stay open.”

It was a good post, as his usually are, it even got picked up by PG at Passive Voice, and I wish to say that I’m not in a habit of picking on Mike, I don’t pretend to know a fraction of what he knows about traditional publishing.

But I have to question this; in the first quote he states that the publishing houses know that their ecosystem has changed and they will have to change also. Good, change is indeed coming, and to survive, the publishers will have to adapt. I think, at varying degrees, anyone familiar with the subject would agree with that.

But then he goes on in the second quote to imply that book stores are on their way out; that they can’t hope to survive within the current evolving ecosystem.

I have to agree; if they continue as they are, they will certainly perish. If they operate with the current model and mind-set, logic and economics says they will fail.

But why can’t bookstores evolve, as he states the publishers will have to do? Why does he see the sale of physical books as the only revenue source of a bookstore? Why can’t he, or the Big Six, envision a store like the one I described in my post?

If the Big Six …worked together(!)…they could easily open a few pilot stores as the one I have described. Think outside the box; come up with several forms of revenue. Stop fighting the Indies and partner-up with them. The Indie authors and readers to whom I’ve shown this all said they would embrace such a store, and the services described, with open arms. All were willing to give up a percentage to have their books placed within. I imagine Mike would even have a few ideas of his own on this.

And maybe the Big Six could…dare I say it…think like an Indie?

And if they could do it quickly, that would be great.

 I want my bookstore back!

About author

Randall

Randall Wood is the author of the popular Jack Randall series of thrillers as well as several short stories surrounding the main characters.

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There are 14 comments

  • J S says:

    The bookstores have an advantage they have not fully realized and exploited. They know what customers want to buy. They have the details buried in their cash register receipts (are they mining this data?). They know what placement does or doesn’t do. They know how hand selling works because they do it every day. They hear the voice of the consumer directly.

    How many author’s would like to know, before they embark on the next 100,000 word sprint, “Forget writing about anything with Shades in it, write your story about Alien Crickets. That is really hot right now and will be for the next year based on this hard data.”? The author thinks “thankfully I didn’t write that whole novel about friendly wolves.”

    If the book stores, especially independent booksellers, band together they can entirely get rid of the middle men between the authors’ content and the customer. Oh, right, Amazon is doing that. Physical book sellers can do that too. They currently have retail sites that people are driving to (how much loyalty is that? Driving and parking and wandering in instead of ordering on-line from the easy chair with a quick click?).

    Your vision is spot on for how the retailers could survive, but it’s not the publishers place to do this task, they will have channel conflicts (bookseller: “why should I buy all these books from you the publisher when you just set up this shop across the street to compete with me?”).

    I have some other ideas for independent book stores on keeping customers, buried in my upcoming Paranormal series (watch my website re “Livix” trilogy), out later this month.

    • Randall says:

      All good points JS,

      I don’t think a day goes by without another idea that would fit into the store I described. It will certainly be interesting the first time someone takes a stab at it.

      If that someone were Amazon they would definitely have an advantage due to the data they have been accumulating over the years. As for the publishers; I feel they are already behind and it will be a constant effort to catch up from this point on. Even the suggestions I mentioned in my Amazon and the Big Six posts is already showing signs of being antiquated. Time will certainly tell, but at the rate the Big Six are attempting to adapt, I just don’t see it happening.

      I’ll be checking out your series. Thanks for the visit.

  • […] problem. Gotta go, tell Jessica I said hello.”“Will do, thanks Mike.”Link to the rest at Randall Wood AuthorClick to Tweet/Email/Share This Post wpa2a.script_load(); BookstoresNo Comments to “What […]

  • As a publisher, I would definitely want to talk to that bookstore owner about getting our books on his virtual shelves.

    As an author, I would be more than happy to do signings, readings, whatever there – anything I could do to support it.

    As a voracious reader, I would happily peruse the store for books (I prefer print, actually) and buy more coffee than I should. He’d likely have to kick me out at the end of the day.

    How can we make this happen?

    • Randall says:

      I’m actually working on a business plan based on the post.

      Basically a five store start-up at major city malls and central content from one location. Its growing more everyday.

      Do I write more or work on the business plan? Its a fight everyday.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  • Came on over from PG’s site to comment directly, Randall. 🙂

    I like your thinking! Some really cool ideas in there, especially at the regional/granular level.

    I’m fortunate that my town boasts a number of excellent indie bookstores. One of them has been in business for years, selling only mysteries/thrillers. (I think they also have a web business of finding hard-to-get titles in those genres.)

    The best indie bookstore here carries a large selection of both new and used books. They’re also strongly supportive of their local authors. Whenever I have a new title out, I provide the books (POD from CreateSpace) and they do promotion and sell my books – and a lot of other books that day, too, since I bring people in to the store. 🙂 It’s a win-win.

    I’d encourage indie authors to reach out to their local independently-owned bookstores. Will the store host writer’s groups meetings? Can you help with signings/coordination when bigger-name authors come through? Will the store carry your book? Host a signing?

    I agree, it’s time for everybody to think outside of the box. 🙂

  • Randall says:

    I visited your site just the other day!

    I had some great indie bookstores surrounding me when I lived in Michigan. Now I’m in Florida and they seem to be fewer in number. The ones we do have are very author freindly though. I will most likely approach a few when the plan is ready with some ideas to support each other.

    The store I envision would have all the facilities and services you mentioned and more. The big diffirence between it and a traditional store such as BnN is that it runs off of several profit streams as opposed to book sales alone. Its both a retail outlet and a service provider. The big question I need asked from the self-pub community is would they be willing to give up 2-5% of the 70% they make at Amazon to have their book listed/advertised in the store. Maybe you could ask around for me at TPW? Hint-hint 🙂

    I always have TPV running in the background. 🙂 Let me know your ideas there and I’ll tell you what I’ve learned so far.

    Thanks for the visit.

    • Hi Randall,

      I think you haven’t gotten a lot of response on this question because people don’t quite see how it’s going to work. Are you thinking that the book buyer buys from one of the major outlets, and then somehow the bookstore takes a small fee for instore purchases? Or are you thinking that the bookstore has its own retail site?

      If the former, I’m sure there will be authors who’ll pay for the added visibility, and 2-5% seems reasonable to me. I’d pay that. 🙂 Of course, if it’s the latter then the store could reasonably take a much bigger cut.

  • […] we love physical bookstores as well (perhaps a little too much, as my groaning shelves attest), Randall Wood has a great idea for the bookstore of the future. Found via The Passive Voice. This entry was posted in Announcements, Bookselling and tagged […]

  • K. V. Witten says:

    As both a long-term, high-volume reader and new author, I would love a bookstore like this.

    I was also one of those kids ‘dropped off’ at the bookstore (or library) while the rest of the family did something else. I love the atmosphere of bookstores, the access to thousands of books, the pleasure of being among people who also loved books.

    There are no local independent bookstores around where I live. But we do have a B&N and I go there at least twice a month. Unfortunately, due to the amount I read, buying new books from traditional publishers is simply not in the budget. I haunt yardsales/libraries and read a lot of indie authors. But what you outline sounds wonderful, both as a reader and an author.

  • Randall says:

    Anthea,

    This is prooving to be difficult as I need to answer questions and gather some data/opinions in an open forum yet I dont wish to give away the whole business model while I’m doing it. Alot of people are contacting me at my personal e-mail thats on my contact page here so I am getting SOME data, but what I was really hopeing for was an open conversation on what people would be willing to spend in relation for what they would expect to get in return from such a store. PG is being a nice guy by letting me abuse his site. 🙂 Can you help me get one going? I promise to try and read a romance novel (as long as nobody sees me)

  • The Rodent says:

    Yes! A mall without a bookstore might as well be a padded cell.
    And I think you’re on the right track as far as the bookstore of the future goes… Wow, I want one!

  • I would definitely spend time in that store. I think it’s possible for Randy penguin and the rest to cooperate on something like this. As the recent DOJ case has proven, they are willing to cooperate if they see value in it. They might be willing use this format in an attempt to cut Indies out of the picture.
    Lets hope a 3rd party entrepreneur gives it a shot and keeps it open to everyone. Publishers would just take a great idea and run it into the ground…