News Ticker

Get Your Teddy Bears Out of My Bookstore

This post is about book stores – I swear.

I don’t go to BestBuy looking for advice. I know that BestBuy has spent a good deal of time and money attempting to brand themselves as being quite knowledgeable about the products that they sell and I salute them for that effort, but it has never been my experience that their general employees are particularly knowledgeable. This is not necessarily their fault, and I’m not trying to be mean or slam them – I know they try. But I liken it to multiple levels of tech support; you have your ground floor grunts who wander around the store looking quite aimless who are more than capable of pointing out to you where something is in the store or how much it costs, but beyond that, they aren’t particularly helpful. Above them is the next tier, people who have a bit more knowledge and the power that comes with it. You rarely see them wandering the floor. Above them are the true techies and they are around but you will have to stand in line for a long time to chat with them (which I have done – don’t get me wrong here!). They tend to be overworked and underpaid, which can make them grumpy. Just sayin’…

So, when I walk into a BestBuy and some random employee on the floor asks me if they can help me with something, I smile and tell them no and go about my business.I admit that I might be above the curve on technology stuff – just a bit. I also tend to do all my research before I ever step into one of their locations. Maybe that’s why I don’t feel these folks can help me.

Now, flip this and say I’m walking into a book store…


We’re talking about a different animal here. These people, for the most part and in my experience, know what they are about. They know authors and titles in addition to where stuff is. A lot of them are working there because they love books. It’s almost a calling for them. Heck, it was almost a calling for me. I toyed with the idea of working for a book seller for years but it was always something that I thought about and never followed through on. (Money/pay was a factor.) But as a result of this calling, a lot of the time they can say to you with absolute conviction, “Oh, if you liked such ‘n such, you should check out…” and give you recommendations that are wildly more informed and qualified versus the so-called ‘auto recommendations’ you receive from various online book sellers who shall remain Amazon (Barnes & Noble’s recommendations in my email are horrid, too).

In contrast to the person working at a BestBuy, I actually rely on the people at the bookstore for their knowledge and expertise.

Why bring this up? Well, there’s this story out there about Borders bringing a build a bear kiosk / thing into their stores. There’s also a great piece from a former Borders employee with some nice thoughts on the subject that you should check out.

The idea is that they need to bring more people into the store to buy books and boost sales, so they want something else in the store that will bring the people in. This is not a new concept.

Have you ever heard the term ‘anchor’ with regards to a strip mall or regular old mall? Anchors are the big brand-name places, in some cases, that drive traffic to the mall and, therefore, into the other, surrounding businesses. JC Penny is an excellent example of one of these anchors, as would be Macy’s, BestBuy or Bed, Bath & Beyond, to name just a few. In smaller strip malls, you tend to see a lot of liquour stores or convenience stores as ‘anchors’ because these, too, bring in foot traffic that can spill over into the other businesses down the line.

So, like I said – not exactly a new idea.

But the idea that a book store in and of itself must diversify in order to compete boggles the mind. I mean, it’s a book store. It’s where you go to buy books. The melding of bookstores with coffee shops was brilliant; get a book and a cup of joe – they go together, they work, they complement each other. When you are in the book store and you are shopping around or sitting cross legged on the floor in front of a shelf full of goodies trying to decide which books from the four piles you’ve built up around you like a fort you can actually afford to buy today and which ones need to wait for the next paycheck, and that smell of fresh roasted coffee wafts over and you find the need to make your picks suddenly more urgent because, damn, that smells good… that works.

Uh, not that I’ve ever done that or anything. Nope. Not me. Uh-uh…

Calendars work too. So much so that when I think about calendars or needing a calendar or general calendar type STUFF, where do I think of going? The book store. I can even get on board with music CDs in the book store because that can go hand in hand with a good book. DVDs, not so much. Isn’t the DVD sort of the supervillain to the book’s superhero?

But the worst has to be this teddy bears thing Borders is proposing. Really, Borders? Teddy bears? I mean, this ranks right up there with the games thing that I don’t understand; tons and tons of board games in the middle of a section of books. You’re winding your way through the stacks and suddenly you come across a clearing full of… Monopoly? It’s like the worst jungle book type safari reward ever… I’m surprised they haven’t taken a page from the casino handbook where all paths lead to the board games.

Diversity of product can be a great thing, but it can also be wildly inappropriate if done wrong. Some things just don’t mix or don’t make sense. Like when they combine Kentucky Fried Chicken with Taco Bell all in one restaurant – that’s just wrong. Diversity of product, when done wrong, can actually lead to an exponential loss of focus and as a result, expertise. Consider the difference between asking someone at the locally owned Ace Hardware for help versus someone at Lowes or Home Depot; the Ace Hardware person tends to be more focused on a smaller amount of inventory, which means that they can actually know more about little, if that makes sense. The Home Depot person can point you at whatever it is you need but nine times out of ten, they can’t tell you how it works/how to install it/what else you’ll need – You need Ray for that, but Ray’s not here right now… The Ace person, nine times out of ten, knows what Ray knows and is actually there and can help you right now.

Apply this to a company like Borders who is supposed to be a book seller, and what you find is that the more they try to diversify their products in order to bring people in to buy their books, the less focus there is on the actual books and the harder it is to find that knowledge and expertise we’re looking for. Especially if someone has to spend their time learning how to work a build a bear kiosk instead of reading books.

Not to mention that something has to go; in order to make room for the board games and the build a bear kiosk and the Red Box DVD rental kiosk and the popcorn maker – something has to be removed, stock has to be decreased. Who gets to decide what stays and what goes? Can YOU guess which section of the store will get trimmed first, Science Fiction & Fantasy fans?

Remember the bit about ‘anchor’ stores above? Well, guess who else is considered an anchor store – Borders. So is Barnes & Noble. They are considered anchor stores with identifiable brands that will pull in shoppers.

Why? What is their brand?

Books.

Imagine how successful they could be if they actually focused on that…

About Patrick Hester (527 Articles)
Patrick Hester is a writer, blogger, podcasting dude, Denver transplant and all around Functional Nerd. Don't hate him cuz he has a cool hat.

21 Comments on Get Your Teddy Bears Out of My Bookstore

  1. Just picking up on part of your rant… Why is it that SF&F get such poor and shoddy treatment in the book retailers? Given our reading habbits and never ending quest for more books we should be treated far better than we are, its gotten even worse in my local Waterstones (major UK book retailer) since the advent of Urban Fantasy and the love affair with all things Harry Potter as these have been hived off from SF&F and given prime billing whilst the rest of the genre has been relegated to a tiny (over crammed, HUGELY overcrammed) corner of the basement…. I was in there yesterday in the middle of the afternoon (when the rest of the shop was nearly deserted) and had to elbow barge my fellow geeks and nerds to try and get access because 80% of the customers in the shop all wanted to browse 5% of the shelf space.

  2. What is happening to the big bookstores (Borders and Barnes and Noble) is what happened to the newspapers.  All went in major debt.  For the newspapers the debt was from a few mostly older out of touch wealthy buyers over paying for companies in a declining industry.  In turn, the big bookstores added a large amount of debt to expand in expensive “anchor” locations and essentially push the local bookstores out of business.  This has left these companies saddled with a ton of debt. 

    Barnes and Noble is only worth around $800-900 million and it has $480 million in debt, while Borders is worth around $300-400 million and it has $330 million in debt.  This debt to equity ratio only works for fast growing companies or companies that produce truckloads of cash like Microsoft (of course then you don’t need much debt), and neither of these companies fit this mold.  Thus, they are desperate to get higher margin products (not books) and to increase store traffic.  Of course, to do this they have to give up the lower margin books and quit targeting only one type of customer (the reader).  They need to target everyone or their business model collapses.

    Targeting everyone will of course alienate their core customer, the reader.  They are trying to be something for everyone, but they will fail and we will lose bookstores.  Of course, this will be blamed on people not buying books, but it will really be managements fault.  Same goes for newspapers, which are a profitable industry if you don’t force a ton of debt on them.

    The solution?  Only buy books from local bookstores, which are run properly, cater to the reader, and make a profit.  Or,  buy from Amazon.  Why would you support companies like Borders who are giving up on you?  I haven’t been in a Borders or Barnes and Noble in 2-3 years, and I don’t plan on going back.

     

  3. While I very much agree with you I can (sort of) see where they are going. And it is sad but not a horrible idea. Going back to your Best Buy example I would say that if you have truly done your research then you’re probably not buy your tech at Best Buy. I think Borders is afraid of being the next Blockbuster. And they should be afraid. While online book recommendation has a long way to go I typically get my recommendations from sites like SFSignal, and I09 (the devil).

    The last time I actually went into a full price retail bookstore (or a Best Buy for that matter) and left with something was to buy a present for someone else. Maybe someone there knows that. Maybe they think Teddy Bears are a good “gift” tie in. I am not sure it is going to work. I would rather see them focus on the social side. A brick and mortar social environment where people could host clubs, buy ebooks, read and recommend things to each other would be awesome. But I’m afraid that someone there has seen the future, and that future is Border’s as a Hallmark store.

     

  4. “I mean, it’s a book store. It’s where you go to buy books.”

    Well, no, not any more.   And that’s their problem.   Increasingly the place you go to buy books is the browser, either on your PC/Mac, or directly on your kindle or iPad.   Big chain booksellers are a dying breed.   There will probably be exactly one survive the next 5-10 years, and that will be the one that successfully transforms into getting a good portion of its business from something other than physical books.

    There are a couple of things today that the bookstores do better than online does.   One is, as you mentioned, recommendations.  Although Amazon’s recommendations have gotten better the last couple of years, the vast majority of things it recommends are things I’ve already read and liked.   The second is the ability to start at the beginning of a section, say F&SF or mysteries, and just browse a to z, looking for something new to read.   None of the online-based shopping solutions do that worth a darn.   They’re great if you know what you want, not so great if you’re just looking for something to read.  

    But both the recommendations and the browsing issue are fixable for the online world – the fact that in general people won’t be getting their books at a bookstore really isn’t, for them, unless they diversify.

    What kinds of things could they do?  Well, for example, imagine a B&N with lots of semi-related stuff in it.  Now imagine you go browse at the BN, and when you find a book you want, you buy it on your nook, and it gives you an additional 1% or 2% off the normal nook price, for being in the store.   So they get you to go to the store, and hopefully you buy coffee, or games, or a bear, or whatever.   But they can’t do that right now – the publishers in their hatred and non-understanding of the changing book market, won’t let them.

  5. My sister, bless her heart, is a huge fan of the Build-A-Bear Workshops, which means I end up there whenever we shop together in the mall.  It’s a madhouse.  There’s usually a crowd (even when there’s not a birthday party going on) and the noise level is enough to drive a Nascar pit crew out of their minds.  I always leave with a headache.

    Why on earth would I want to shop for books in a place like that?

  6. Doug Hulick // September 2, 2010 at 10:23 am //

    Skip says: “But they can’t do that right now – the publishers in their hatred and non-understanding of the changing book market, won’t let them.”

    This is an excellent example of not understanding how the publishing business works. It’s not all the publisher’s fault, just like it isn’t all the book seller’s fault (or even all the author’s fault as some people seem to think). B&N etc. can discount anything they want, but they have to be willing to take the hit to their profit margin. That’s how it works with paper books right now: the seller pays X amount and charges Z, with the option of adjusting the margin between X and Z (Y) if they want. (Of course, there is the whole archaic practice of stripping and returning unsold paper titles, which is ridiculous, but also so central to the business model on both ends that it would be nearly impossible to reform at this point without adding a lot of red ink to the ledgers on both sides in the short-term.) As a B&N member, I still get plenty of offers for deals on both paper and e-books, so it’s not that it can’t be done.

    Publishers don’t want bookstores going out of business, just like they don’t want to ruin e-books. They are in business to sell books and survive, and to do this, they need to make money. Charging next to nothing for an e-book doesn’t make them money*, just like charging less than they pay for the book doesn’t make the book seller money**. If anything, publishers are trying frantically to figure out how to transition and survive in a world where half or more of book sales may eventually be electronic. Ditto the big chains.

    Could they be dealing with the change better? Sure they could — and that’s true for almost any business (airlines, anyone? cars? and so on). I’d frankly like to see it moving faster, too; but I’m not about to say that the pace is driven by hatred or a lack of understanding. Talk to anyone in publishing (and book selling, for that matter): they GET that they have to change — but that’s easier said than done, especially on a huge, multi-national corporate level while still staying in business. If it was easy, don’t you think they would have done it already?

    I think that some sort of in-store price incentive like you mention would be a great idea, and we may see it down the line. But there are two (or more) ends on the pricing rope, and both have an impact on the final amount we pay for a product. To say only one end of the rope is holding up all of the money bridge may be easy, but it’s not correct.

     

    * = The cost difference between producing an e-book and a paperback isn’t terribly large — most of the money goes into non-tangibles, like editing, layout, etc. Cost for printing, binding and delivery is a small percent.

    **=  Amazon was able to do this because 1) they are already widely diversified in terms of product, and could absorb it, and 2) it was part of their business model to try and corner the e-reader market with the Kindle and its proprietary reading format. In some ways, Amazon is driving this train and causing some of the chaos. Border’s et al bringing in bears (which I agree as a book fan is dumb) and so on is an attempt to mimic some of Amazon’s success.

  7. I think what Borders found is that exclusively focusing on books didn’t work for them – they’re having an incredible amount of trouble (At least when I worked there part time earlier this year). Adding in things like games, CDs and DVDs makes sense – to an extent. They tend to be fairly expensive things that helps boost numbers when you look at things like dollars spent per transaction – numbers that look really impressive when examined. 

     

    The problem is, Borders hasn’t figured out that books aren’t a product that can be impressed upon everyone. They’re agressive, and I heard some stories of how our regional managers directed employees in my store to pull one of the key books and physically push it into a customer’s hand. Fortunately, I don’t think that anybody listened, because that’s something that a customer would not be happy with. The science fiction fans who came into our store were as impressed with the ‘literature’ key title as the literature people were with the science fiction selection. Borders is still looking to sell books, but they have the wrong approach, I think, because these sorts of marketing strategies are devised by someone who’s not all that experienced with the sales floor. 

     

    One of the issues with these key items? They’re not cheap. They’re not cheap for a reason, and I rarely saw anybody purchase one, because where a film costs $25-$27 at Borders, they could easily just walk up the hallway to FYE and get the same DVD for almost $10 cheaper. I’ve told customers that, and I have no doubts in my mind that that’s helped make a customer return in the future. 

     

    The problem, in a large way isn’t what they’re selling – diversifying is okay, as long as it makes some amount of sense. Overpriced Key items? Not so much. Reasonably priced key items? Go for it – but the way that they’re selling them. 

  8.  @Andy – because regular SF/F doesn’t sell. Urban fantasy sells very well. 

  9. A bookstore that compounds the initial reader’s frustration of failing to carry more than a book or so in a given series and a thin selection of books with excessive undirected selling (credit cards, random books, etc.) makes me want to flee. Adding the chaos of a mechanized toy shop to an already frustrating experience is a good way to push me to avoid the store entirely.

  10. @ Andrew

    “…because regular SF/F doesn’t sell. Urban fantasy sells very well.”

     

    I agree SF/F doesn’t sell compared to urban fantasy, but is that because there are more people who buy urban fantasy or because hardly any new SF/F gets placed in these big box stores?  I know I quit going to these stores because they had the same SF/F books every time I went.  They aren’t getting me back.

  11. I went into a massive Canadian Book Super Big-Box Book Store and was looking to find a copy of the then current issue of Publishers Weekly in the magazine section. I found a few literary perioducals — Canada’s Quill & Quire for one, which seemed promising for my desired purchase — but no PW. I was approached by a young feller in a blazer who said he happened to be the Manager and asked if he could be of help, so I enquired if they had a copy of the latest Publishers Weekly. “Sorry, what’s that?” …pardon?

    I tried not to sound entirely flabbergasted, and to remember that not everything is known to all people at the same time, as well as the possibility he astually hadn’t heard me clearly enough. I re-stated the name of Publishers Weekly, explaining that it was the book publishers’ newspaper. “Oh, sorry, I havewn’t heard of that. I’m new to books, you see.”

    Fully 90% of the products in his store have a quote from PW somewhere on the cover about the contents, probably at least half of all books he’s ever had in his hands during his life have also plastered the name at him, and he’s running a bookshop now without even the recognition of the damned thing’s title?

    There’s you answer about why you can’t find books in the book store: the people in charge don’t realise they’re running a bookshop, they are under the impression they’re running a shop which has books in it and therefore anything else they can sell is also fair game.

    True enough, it is a shop, and the place is a business which needs to make money, but why not do one thing really well — such as selling books — and thereby make money from that?

    I can only hope the lad’s learned about PW, and hopefully Q&Q plus Booklist and Kirkus while he’s at it.

  12. The problem with Borders is when they removed most of their DVD and CD stock, they were left with big empty spaces in the store that needed filling.  The Borders I’ve been to recently put tables and piles of floored bargain books in these spots, which, given the cost per square foot of most rents, isn’t going to bring them any income.  So, with the empty space, they are looking for ways to increase revenue.  Therefore, bear-building = getting kids and parents into stores = sales of kids books, and maybe some other things.

    Me, I’d like to see them carry books that their competition would normally not, like they used to, years ago.  Also, I’d not be adverse to them having a print-on-demand area / kiosk, where you could order a book not available except for POD, wander around a bit, and pick it up while you’re there.  They would need to work out publisher payment issues, but I think they could do so and be quite successful, giving Amazon and others a run for their money.  I myself would be happy to get a book now than have to wait days or weeks to get the POD mailed to me.

  13. Books have a very low profit margin for both the bookstore and the publisher so, for many years, bookstores have been adding various novelties (calendars, games, etc.) and used books where the margin is much, much higher to make ends meet.  

    Build-a-Bear is another attempt at bringing in more profit, and it is a comfortable fit with the children’s book section.  

    You might not like it, but it may keep a few bookstores alive, and that’s not a bad thing.

  14.  

    @Chad – I think that it’s because more people buy Urban fantasy, and because the bookstores are buying less science fiction, there’s not as much published (relatively). 

    @LouW – From the sounds of things and from another commenter, it sounds like those things are pretty popular. I have yet to see one, but it seems like that could be a thing that would bring people into Borders stores, and by extension, they’ll browse and get people buying books. The same goes with the bargin books – they might not make Borders a ton of money, but they do bring people through the door, which is the intent there. 

    I agree with Marilynn – it’ll keep these sorts of bookstores around longer, which is good. 

  15. They’ll cut the non-fiction sections first. It’s what they always do. They aren’t going to be cutting the YA section — which is having the most sales growth and which is full of SFF. They aren’t going to cut the SFFH sections because they need those for the store fiction display, as fiction, much like Build a Bear, is the big lure for bookstores even though most of the sales come from non-fiction. Fantasy is still the number one selling sub-area of fiction (and not just urban fantasy) — why would they cut it? Much easier just to dump some shelves of general fiction. Because the bookstores already overstock. They already have too many titles they can’t sell and too many copies of even the ones they can, which is a large part of why they are in this mess.

    Sure, I can get mad that they’re trying to bring in more people with stuffed animals than with more books, but stuffed animals have been a highly successful tool in selling books for decades. Kids can get stuffed animals from anywhere but if they get a stuffed animal from a bookstore, a lot of them are also going to be walking out with books in their hot little hands. Frankly, if they want to have a three ring circus in the store, like in Vegas, I’m fine with it at this point. Bookstores need to be destination places, amusement parks, especially for kids, because most people don’t go into bookstores.

    And what happens now is I walk into a music store — and there are books there. Not just books about music — novels. I walk into a nature gift store and there are books there. I walk into a computer game store and there are books there. I walk into a giant Toys R Us, and there are books there. I walk into a Starbucks coffeehouse and there are books there. Should those stores get rid of the books, which take up room which could be otherwise used for the merchandise for which the store was intended? Or is it a good thing that these stores are willing to stock some books as an actual draw for their customers? You can’t have it both ways.

    If you want books to continue and to grow, and I include e-books in this as well, you need people. And if you want people, you have to stop treating books as if they must be kept on a secret island with as much purity as a church only for true believers, the ones who buy twenty books a year. We need to tie books into everything else that interests people as much as possible. We need books to be part of the culture, not a private cult for coffee drinkers. Introduce your game playing loving friends to game tie-in novels. Introduce your horror film loving friends to horror novels. Trick your girlfriend into getting a Build a Bear as a symbol of your love in the bookstore and then also con her into trying your favorite fantasy novel. (My daughter is a teenager and she’s still interested in Build a Bear. Have the Paint Your Own Pottery people move in too.) Seriously people, it’s not fair that the movies have all the lunchboxes. The lunchboxes should be in the bookstores attracting the back to school crowd. That’s why Amazon sells you lawnmowers along with the next Stephen King novel. Also Amazon will sell you stuffed bears and stuff your own bear kits. Why is it okay for Amazon to do that and not Borders?

    As for lack of expertise, there’s a very simple reason for that. Bookstores pay less in wages than McDonald’s. Bookstores get the same people as clerks that video rental places do — students, young people, immigrants. If they work there for awhile, they will learn about books and do hand-selling, upon which publishers actually do still rely. But if you want free expertise every time, it’s on the Internet. You can do the same research on the books that you did before you walked into Best Buy. And then you could actually talk to other customers in the bookstore, actually interact, and share that expertise, providing word of mouth. While you are building a bear, perhaps.

  16. Doug Hulick says: “B&N etc. can discount anything they want, but they have to be willing to take the hit to their profit margin.”

    Actually, no, they can’t.   Read about the agency model that Apple came up with to try to screw Amazon a few months back.  Ebooks from those publishers are forced to be sold at a set price.   And it’s high enough that they’re cutting their own throats, because they’re trying, at any cost, to save the dying model of ‘get most of their profits on the hardback release’.   You can tell books from these publishers when you go to amazon’s website, if it lists a publishers price, but no kindle price, Amazon has no control over it.

    Let me give you an example, LE Modesitt has a fairly recent series, his Imager series, and the third book came out a couple of months back.    I own as ebooks the first two in the series.   The third one came out, and Macmillan’s mandated price is $15, or about a buck less than I can get the hardback for.   This is insane – If I’d bought that hardback on initial release, and read it, I could have gone down the street to Half Price Books and they’d have given me $5-6 for it, while the ebook edition has no resale.     Macmillan is the worst of the publishers in this regard.  $10, and I hit ‘buy it now’.  $15 and I say ‘screw that’.

    So what did I do?  Instead I used one of my audible credits and got the audiobook, which I listened to.   Those cost me approximately $10 each, for waaaaay more value than the hardback.   I don’t know exactly how audiobook deals work, but I’d bet that Macmillan didn’t see much, if any of the profit from the audiobook sale.

    Just like newspapers and magazines, the model under which publishers have worked for the last hundred years is dying.   And most of the publishers will probably die off as a result of being unable to adapt.

  17. Doug Hulick // September 3, 2010 at 1:34 pm //

    As I understand it, the agency model essentially mandates the price that the publisher needs to be reimbursed from. That most easily translates into, “A book will cost $X.” I am sure that if a company said, “We want to sell Book X for a dollar less, but will still pay you your set margin” something could be worked out. And there is price reduction built into the model, so that over time, the $15 e-book drops to $12, and so on. It then becomes a question of how fast you want it (same is true for a lot of other things. Not necessarily fair, but there it is).

    I agree that not being able to turn the e-book over like a hardcover is a downside that they will need to address at some point. However, for most readers, that isn’t a factor, and so I think not high on the list of concerns since it is not a profit issue for either the seller or the publisher. Most readers put their book on a shelf when they are done, rather than turn it around. Also, no one is stopping you from buying the hardback and reselling it. It sounds like your main beef is that you can’t get what you want for the price you want to get it at. Hey, I want an iPhone for $25, but it ain’t gonna happen. At least in the case of the book, the content is the same no matter what the format — and that’s the main reason you’re buying it, right?

    Part of the reason for the Agency Model was so that publishers wouldn’t be driven out of business by false low-ball pricing. Amazon was selling books for *less than it cost them to acquire* in an attempt to set a falsely low standard for e-book pricing. The plan was to get Kindle set as the default e-reader within five years, after which Amazon could dictate pricing since they would have the lion’s share of the proprietary e-reading market. You don’t think that, if Amazon controlled 80% of the e-reader market, they wouldn’t eventually bump prices get back in the black from e-book sales? With the recent launch of Amazon’s e-publishing arm, as well as the attempted deal with the Wylie Agency, I think it’s fair to say that Amazon has also been eyeing becoming a publisher as well, which would further reduce their overhead and put competing publishers in an even righter spot.

    The point is, $10 e-books are not sustainable for just about any publisher at this point in time.* Amazon did a great job of setting up the price expectation, but it’s one that can’t be sustained in the long term. Books still need editing, copy editing, proofreading, lay out, design, and so on, and that all takes a staff and all costs money. Wanting your e-book for $10 is great, but it would have the same effect as Apple selling an iPhone for $25: it would be great for a while, until Apple went out of business because they lost too much money. Same for publishers: you can’t sell at a loss all the time, no matter how nice it might be for the consumer.

     

    * = You could certainly do e-books for $10 or less for paperbacks and the like, but I am sure people will complain if they have to pay the same price for a e-book as a mass market print book. Me, I see it is as a choice issue: do you want the convenience of the e-book, or do you want the adaptability/re-sale option of the physical book? You are still getting the same content in either case — it’s just the packaging and the use options that change. Why should the price be that much different if the the function — and the enjoyment — are the same for both?

  18. The big costs for e-books for publishers are not things like copy-editing and editing. It’s costs that are particular to producing the e-books. It’s that they have to be in multiple formats and each format has to be proofread both narratively and technically several times per format. And if there are errors, you have to go back and do it again. This takes time and it takes personnel that publishers don’t have. Either they have to hire people to do it — salaries, benefits, office space, etc. — or they have to hire fewer people to oversee it — salaries, benefits, office space, etc. — who then coordinate with hired companies who do it, and publishers have to pay those companies or share profits with them or both. Right now, there aren’t enough e-book sales to cover those costs well, certainly not at a very low price point. And there are additional problems — Amazon was grabbing the electronic licensing rights to titles from publishers for free under the old method. Authors are renegotiating contract terms and royalties and there’s no standard model yet for either side. There are e-publishers who are also trying to make deals for pay or just grabbing things (Google.)

    So right now, e-books are expensive, inefficient, difficult, require new infrastructure and are not profitable. But that’s changing, formats are standardizing, sales are increasing in volume, and the prices will change accordingly. However, if you buy e-books, you will have to pay for the convenience of having it in that format, because it costs extra and extra personnel to get it to you in that format. So e-books will cost less over time, but they are unlikely to cost less than paperbacks as they cost a lot more to provide than paperbacks. The majority of the market is in paperback, not hardcover, so for the larger number of titles that people want as e-books, there is no hardcover involved.

    E-books are only 3% of the market so far, because the market is still being developed, and because the main countries that are markets for e-readers and tablet computers are in economic distress and losing their middle class — the main buyers of e-books. Developing economies like China, India and Brazil are doing very well and will have disposable income, but then there are lots of tech issues, translation issues and additional infrastructure and personnel costs. And the main products sold to e-readers and tablet computers are not e-books. So e-books will grow rapidly, but booksellers are still going to be dealing with print editions for quite awhile. So right now, they are focused on how to integrate e-books, online stores with physical stores, and drawing people into physical stores. A large portion of the population won’t shop online, won’t buy e-books, don’t have gadgets. But they will buy print books from a physical store. So they aren’t going to ignore those readers too, just because you like your Kindle. And they are going to tempt parents with kids to come in by having Build a Bear. Because even when Amazon had a lot of e-books at $10, you weren’t buying enough of them.

     

     

  19. Good post, Patrick. I think you’re right, what value does the kiosk bring? Their focus is on books, I know their margins are low, but are bears really going to bring in new customers? I suppose they might just be hoping for some extra impulse sales, but I’d rather (though I’m biased) see inclusion of high quality figurines for us sci-fi/fantasy fans.

    Have you seen the toy areas in some test Barnes & Noble? In the Dublin, CA location, they have a toy section that is nefariously large. I know books are hurting, but geesh. It just didn’t seem right for a book store. But I guess it fits right in with a build-a-bear kiosk.

    Perhaps we should make toys to market along with our books, or just go the whole nine and insert a Jar-Jar like toy character into our MS to sell right alongside our novels. Do I jest? Maybe. Is it a good thing to keep in mind. Quite possibly, yes. Oh dear…

    However, seriously, I wouldn’t bastardize my novel to add an action figure in. (I swear!) But looking at your creation you might find something that works well to market alongside it synergistically.

    Or maybe you should just write book #2.

  20. Doug Hulick said: “Iam sure that if a company said, “We want to sell Book X for a dollar less, but will still pay you your set margin” something could be worked out. “

    As I said, go back and read about the fracas when the agency model was instituted.  In fact, Amazon wants to do this, and the publishers won’t let them.   Amazon selling books at a loss for $9.99 was the whole thing that started the push for the model.   The publishers want the price to be high enough not to cannibalize hardback sales.   So they gave Amazon two choices – one – sell at the publisher’s price, no deviations, and get the books at release, or two – sell them at whatever price they want, but have all new books embargoed during the first few months where they can’t sell them.  

    I fully expect the publishers who are pushing this insanely idiotic decision to be either out of business or significantly reduced in size within 5 years.   And I feel sorry for all the authors that this will hurt, but not enough to give in to the publisher’s blackmail.

  21. I think bookstores will eventually go out of business like Blockbuster & Movie Gallery that rented & sold DVDs. I don’t want the bookstores to go out of business though because my friend & I go there quite a bit to drink coffee & read books & magazines. Does anybody foresee a future for any of the bookstores atying in business. The biggest bookstore that is near me is Books A Million. Anyone heard of it? It is bigger than Barnes & Nobles that we have near Books A Million. I agree with one guy on here that said paperbacks are still cheaper than E books. I don’t thing E books will ever be as cheap as paperbacks. No way! Does anyone no if the bible will be an E book or will we just still have the bible in book form? I still like the fact of going inside a book store though & looking at different books & magazines. I really don’t go there for anyone to special order a book. If I have to do that I just buy on Amazon. I mainly buy bibles at Books A Million because they have really good discounts. Barnes & Nobles hardly ever mark their books or bibles down.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: