Let’s play the “What Would You Do” game on this happy Friday!
You’ve spent years curating your shelves, getting to know your customers, and trying to keep your business in the black while big-box and larger chain bookstores alike have been in a position to undermine your cozy atmosphere and woo aways your customers with their fancy membership discounts and lattes (You’ve Got Mail, anyone?).
Then came Amazon and the eReader and both of these things changed the game on you, yet again.
You understand–like it or not–that the future of books is a digital one. Maybe not the entire future because you know there will always be bibliophiles who crave the first crack of the spine and smell of print on cream paper, but certainly you know that some readers will flow with technology–and to that end, some already have. That bookstores, large and small, yours and others, have been likened to dinosaurs in the press, and that your place in the future of publishing has been, and continues to be, questioned. And you know, even those large chain stores, which had once been the biggest threat looming on the horizon, are shrinking or closing up shop altogether.
You receive news from the Emerald City: Amazon wants YOU (well, you and others like you) to carry their Kindle devices in your small, neighborhood bookstore. They want you to stock your shelves with their devices and covers and chargers and Kindleish-swag.
They’ll, of course, be fair. Like with any distributor-deal, you’ll get a cut of each device you sell. But there’s more, and it’s pretty generous…Amazon will pay YOU 10% of each book a Kindle owner buys if the eReader/tablet came from YOUR store for two years post-purchase
You realize that, in the years since Oprah gushed unabashedly over her generation one Kindle, you’ve lost business. It couldn’t be helped. It was a sign of the times. Much like how Apple rendered the trusty CD irrelevant with the invention of the iPod (iPad, iPhone), eBooks and eReaders have risen to the forefront of technology, taking with it some of your most dedicated clients. They’ve told you that digital reading is convenient and easy and just as enjoyable…and while they’ll still buy the occasional hardback edition of a beloved novel or the signed paperback, they aren’t ever going to ‘go back’ to simpler times where these physical books were the rule rather than the exception.
You also know that there are more writers in the ‘literary world’ now than you have room for on your shelves. Fantastic writers. Brilliant writers. But you cannot carry all their books or even most of their books. Still, these independents, with a spirit much like your own, have blazed a path in the digital revolution and your customers do, in fact, want to read them…and as a book aficionado yourself, you want them to read these books, too.
If it was the brick and mortar stores that undercut your bottom line, then it was Amazon who slashed it to pieces. Due impart to breadth and depth, Amazon has proven itself to be the ultimate game changer when it comes to how readers get their books. They can sell new releases for far less than you ever could, not only because they can offer the digital version, but because, due to the volume of material they move on any given day, they can discount their physical stock to bargin-basment prices right from the beginning. Even those once all-powerful big name stores haven’t been able to reach the bar that Amazon has set for them and everyone has seen how they have faired because of their failure to do so.
Now, they want you to become a distributor of the very device that turned the reading-world inside out. The very device that changed not only bookstores, but publishing, and further threatened the success of your business. But you can gain from it. You can grow with the industry, you can offer your customers more and continue to benefit from their purchases, even if they aren’t buying directly from you.
What is a shoppe-owner to do?
The above scenario is only an example of the decision facing independent book stores right now. In the past days Amazon has made them a deal, extended an olive branch, which appears to be almost too good to refuse.
Amazon has offered small bookstores the opportunity to sell the company’s much beloved Kindle device in their stores with the lure of making the partnership a potentially lucrative one. For every Kindle a shop sells, the store stands to make not only the upfront commission on the device itself (and charger and cover) but a backend 10% of every book sold for two year post-purchase (which–given the way technology advances at breakneck speed, and the way people tend to replace theirs devices for the latest and greatest–could go on indefinitely if customers are shop-loyal when it comes to buying their next, new eReader/tablet). In a digital-world where new releases sell for between $12.00-$15.00 (on the very high end), every book that leaves the digital-shelf could potentially net a store $1.20-$1.50 without having to pay their staff to sell it, the credit card company to process it, for the plastic bag they put it inside and a dozen other little things that go into the completion of a sale. On the low-end, for those 99-cent books a store would never carry, but books that still break onto the Best Seller list every single day, they can pocket a tidy $.09. Almost sounds like free money…
But it’s not, because the truth is truth.
For every digital book sold, one less physical copy moves out the door. It’s unknown what cut a book-seller gets from a publishing house when a book is sold, and the entire scenario really does depend on that illusive figure. Is it more? Is it less? Is it on par? Who knows. But our guess? It’s got to be pretty darn close. Amazon, while a business, isn’t really ever out to insult anyone. They’ve built their brand on honesty and fairness. Don’t believe us? Just ask a writer who is a freelance employee (indie) or a customer who has ever had an issue with a product they’ve purchased. The deal has to be good, the pot sweet, for Amazon to even attempt to pull something like this off.
But is money alone enough to convince small bookstores to climb into bed with Amazon? Some say yes and others, no.
To take a deal like this from Amazon is similar to committing suicide, or so claims the Business Insider.
Long story short: Once a customer is on the Amazon platform, what’s the real likelihood that they will continue to frequent their neighborhood bookstore? All things being ‘equal’ in terms of books sold and money netted…what accounts for those impulse purchases which surely add to a store’s bottom line? The tiny (delicious!) foil-wrapped chocolates by the register? The stuffed animals? The greeting cards and note cards and positive affirmation engraved stones? All of which, small or not, have become staples of the bookstore’s financial diet.
Amazon’s new program, MatchBook, underscores this point further. MatchBook is essentially a way for readers to buy the print version of a book (at Amazon’s list price, which is already below most other prices, mind you) and then get the digital copy for $2.99 or under. It no longer makes much sense for a reader to buy a print book elsewhere when they can get a bundled deal for the same, if not less, money.
It’s no secret that stocking the shelves is both pricey and limited. There is only so much space to go around, and the algorithms behind the whole ‘who gets what’ isn’t the easiest to figure out. But this allows bookstores to carry less of what doesn’t sell easily, carry more of what does sell and possibly (probably?) sell more of it on both fronts. Their customers will have access to things they didn’t before, opening up exciting new avenues for revenue. The hope would be that, with a wider reach of books and writers, the gain will be enough to supplement what is lost if in-store traffic slows.
Besides, digital reading is the future. Maybe everyone could deny that before, but certainly not any longer. Small bookstores aren’t like Barnes and Noble with a pile of money and a staff of tech-savvy developers to create and peddle their own branded eReader. And then truth is simply this: Many people don’t read books. They read eReader screens, they read tablet screens, they read phone screens, computer screens. Why fight it? Why not bend and flow with change? Why not carry the most successful eReader on the market? Why not take the wave and ride it rather than crash and drown beneath it? Survival is survival, right? Which begs the question: For small bookstores that have been hurting for years, is the bigger importance now that they survive period or does it matter more how they survive?
So, the question is … if you were a small bookseller, what would you do? Would you partner with Amazon or would you steer-clear? And, more importantly, as a reader, how do you feel about this? Tell us in the comments below!