// what do you think?


What Should Big Book Retailers Do To Stay Relevant? What Would You Do?

In the news today, Borders is closing all remaining stores. It was unavoidable that a few of the big bookstores were doomed. But even Borders larger competitor, Barnes and Noble is struggling. Both have launched eReaders to challenge the Kindle. B&N’s Nook is doing better than the Borders backed Kobo (which still lives on).

The writing was on the wall but eReaders alone couldn’t save Borders and it might not be enough to save B&N. It’s the same old story we’ve seen with every disruptive technology. Borders is a classic boiling frog problem. The Internet blew up once and book sales were fine. It would have been too easy to become passive and expect that physical books were timeless or that at least there was time to change. There wasn’t.

This got me thinking. What would I have done different if it was my call. And as I pondered, I wondered what would YOU do? It’s easy to criticize the big guys for not changing fast enough. What if you were sitting at B&N right now and you had to decide what to do? Or Waterstones here in the UK.

My plan when coming to the UK was to completely switch to digital books. Turns out there were a few flaws in my plan. But it’s still inevitable. If I weren’t such a snob and just read popular fiction I’d be fine. I could stick to the NYT best seller list and never miss physical books again.

But my favorite example from this weekend was Goldsboro Books (@goldsborobooks). From Saturday’s post:

I’ve said it before that I still love hard back books and if it’s an author I like I prefer to have first editions. This is why I love Goldsboro’s business modem and think they’ll be around a long long time. I know I will be a regular customer. It could become dangerous, actually. Just watching them wrap the dust jacket of your book in plastic before giving it to you was almost worth the price of the book.

I love this business model. But this strategy only works for small local bookstores located in major cities like London. What about the big guys? They can’t all rely on digital, they can’t all rely on high value hard covers. What else could they do?

Here were a thoughts I had that have various levels of plausibility.

  • Go for all things physical and sell books, music, comic books, DVD’s. But and sell used as well. (This is basically what Hastings is doing.)
  • Bring in the people with art classes and writing workshops. This would rely heavily on local store managers to set up.
  • Push hard for Print On Demand. The biggest problem with physical book stores is when they don’t have the books you want. POD could help solve this and let you tap into indie authors as well. Would require heavy negotiations with the publishers.
  • Screw books and start selling anything you might be able to read a book on, including PC’s, phones, iPads, etc.
  • Screw the publishers and start publishing indie authors. Each location could champion their local authors.
These were a few ideas I had off the top of my head. What would you do?

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About Tac

Social media anthropologist. Communications strategist. Business model junkie. Chief blogger here at New Comm Biz.

  • http://www.researchgoddess.com ResearchGoddess

    Perhaps it’s because of what I do, or my sheer joy in turning pages and writing notes in the margin, but I don’t think I could ever get down with an eReader, personally. Call me old-fashioned but there is something special about holding a book and turning the pages. Some of my favorite books are the ones that look like I ran over them with my car, because I’ve read and loved them so much.

    I think part of the joy for me in books is that the fact that an author had to work so hard to get published meant that I was generally just getting the cream of the crop. With the ease of publishing, self-publishing, and wide availability of eReaders today, anyone can write a book and get it published. That’s both a good and a bad thing — it’s good because it allows for people to stretch their creative wings, but it’s bad because something that used to be sacred is now a commodity, and therefore quite obviously being undervalued. And let me just say — not everyone should write a book… and I’m increasingly jaded by stars who ‘write books’ by dictating stuff to a ghost writer who makes them sound like an award-winning author. Bleh — that’s not writing a book, in my book!

    This may be the only area in which I am a Luddite  :) But I’ll happily stick to my paper books.

    Tac, I know this didn’t answer the question you posed, but I still think it’s important. Companies can adapt to what the masses want without selling their very souls.

  • http://twitter.com/devlind Devlin Dunsmore

    I agree that an e-reader probably isn’t enough to save either company as they currently stand, but they are definitely an entry to a potentially profitable pivot. For large incumbents like B&N and Borders a pivot is an extremely hard thing to pull off as it requires them to shed their old business models that have been around forever and the massive bulk that went along with them. 

    The one thing that these companies still have is their brand in the book retailing business, and that is something that no startup can easily match. That platform and reach can be used for multiple things, but in the end it has to gravitate towards using the web to magnify these assets while keeping costs manageable.

  • http://www.newcommbiz.com/ tacanderson

    I used to feel the exact same way you did. However I’ve found that, with the exception of the hardcover book from a favorite author, having dozens of books (that I’ve purchased and millions more that I could) at my fingertips anywhere at anytime* offsets the tactile joy of the paper book. I’ll never give up on paper completely but I see it being a 90-10 rule in the future. 

  • http://jeffhora.wordpress.com Jeff Hora

    I’ve seen a couple of book stores go for the “build a community” model and, while they are indeed local, seem to thrive.  The community environment they’ve nurtured includes neighborhood events/classes, author appearances and readings, cafes, and the like.  They are not intent on expanding across the globe and are “staying local” as a business trategy.  If a Big Brand tried this, they’d have to allow local stores to operate a lot more independently with more latitude for community and culture.  E-readers are a needed addition to the strategy, but will not save them, especially if they’re wedded to the older model.

  • http://www.newcommbiz.com/ tacanderson

    You’re right and this is one of the things that Amazon did beautifully. I just don’t think the same strategy will work for brick and mortar stores. Too much overhead. They find themselves in the same boat every other media company does; having to replace dollars with cents (or pounds with pence). 

  • http://www.newcommbiz.com/ tacanderson

    I’ve seen a lot of chains try the “local flavor” offering and it always seems to fail. I think it has to do with economies of scale and margins. Not that it couldn’t be done, I just don’t think companies have the right mindset to pull it off. Thanks Jeff.

  • http://www.newcommbiz.com/ tacanderson

    I’ve seen a lot of chains try the “local flavor” offering and it always seems to fail. I think it has to do with economies of scale and margins. Not that it couldn’t be done, I just don’t think companies have the right mindset to pull it off. Thanks Jeff.

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