*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.”
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?”
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?
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;
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.”
“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!