Thursday, March 27, 2008

The 'sorry' state of the book business

Michael Herrmann over at Gibson's has a pretty interesting blog entry here about how the book business is: ["The Sorry State of the Book Business"].
It is sad what is going on in certain sectors of the marketplace like publishing and the music industry. Most of the news is bad and most of the changes are negative, as noted by Michael in his piece.
But there are some positives.
For example, the ability to print-on-demand allows just about anyone to become a published author, which is a very empowering thing for the public. Similar to the interactive blog revolution, a writer no longer needs the approval of a big publishing house before deciding to go to press. Some will say that the gatekeepers were a good thing, keeping people who had no business publishing from flooding the market with inferior books. But tell that to the person who has dreamed their entire lives of becoming a published author. They don't have to wait for approval by anyone but themselves.
In many ways it is the same for the musician. In the old days, some bean counter would tell a guitarist whether or not his music was worthy of an audience. Not anymore. Musicians have online music services and CD replication so cheap anyone can do it and everyone is doing it. And this is a good thing even if it is croaking the music industry [Many of us are snickering because we've thought for a long time that the music industry has needed a good housecleaning, just like Congress].
The other part of this is the delivery of content to the end-user. With Web sites and social networking as well other forms of communicating, writers and musicians don't need stores. They don't need buyers and distributors dictating the whims of the public. All they need are people seeking music, news, and books, whether "good" or "bad." There are some great success stories out there about people in the living rooms making albums and making money off downloads on iTunes. A few months back, the top download at iTunes was this struggling young female musician from Britain who couldn't get anywhere with the labels and, poof, there she is, Top of the Pops! And tops due mostly to her own tenacity and nothing more. You don't need snooty record store owners, pseudo cool music buyers or store clerks deciding whether or not to stock your records ... sorry, CDs.
There are some opportunities for bookstores to survive by doing just what Michael is doing. Stocking as many titles as you can; having good, friendly customer service; being open enough to get to know your customers; having a local radio show to promote books and authors [which is very cool]; offering deep discounts during slow months; and encouraging purchasing and attendance to events via email blasts.
There are other ways too.
Instead of promoting Amazon clicks, local bookstores could offer the same service to local Web sites for their online purchases [or even reservations or ordering], partnering with other local Web sites to generate traffic back to your site. Can Gibson's afford giving 25 cents to every click through the Concord Monitor drives to a purchase like Amazon does for TomPaine.com? Probably.
If folks don't want to come to the store, offer a person local delivery service for people instead of the U.S. Mail [yeah, I know, more work, high gas prices, etc., but it is an idea].
In the end, Michael is correct: Survival of the local bookstore is important on many levels. And the good ones, like Gibson's, will make every effort to prevail.

1 comment:

Michael Herrmann said...

Tony, thanks for your kind thoughts, and for linking to that post about the book business. Coincidentally, I posted this morning on the topic of self-publishing, and I was not as thrilled as you are about the prospect of everyone bypassing the traditional gatekeepers and becoming their own publishers. To my mind, it's like everyone bypassing technical school and becoming their own electricians. Shocking, I know. Anyway ...

I would also say that anything we do on the web is going to be an adjunct to our business, not a primary way of generating revenue. We want people to come out into the real world, not live their lives online. So while we will fight Amazon tooth and nail for marketing dominance on the web, we will cede them the actual business that is done on the web. We don't want it. We want personal contact, it's what we're all about.

Thanks again,--Michael