I spent a fair amount of last week at the American Booksellers Association’s Winter Institute in
While I made notes on everything from staffing issues to web-site design, there was one moment in the conference that I haven’t been able to get out of my mind.
It was no surprise that some of the hot topics of the week were e-books and e-book pricing. There was lots of speculation and conjecture. In the midst of a presentation from a representative from Google, discussing digital books, the presenter, as many do when discussing the future of the book industry, brought up a few analogies to the music industry. A graph was shown that displayed the ongoing declining gross revenue of the music industry over the past 5 years. While many people have discussed at length how publishers, in dealing with the digitization of books, need to learn a lesson from how the record labels mishandled the digitization of music, this presenter, almost as a throw away after thought, brought up what I believe to be a key issue that publishers and bookstores need to begin focusing on right away.
The presenter said, that when asking a top record label executive what he attributed this decline in revenue to, he stated, without hesitation, that “the decline of gross revenue is directly related to the decline of physical well stocked CD stores (paraphrased).” The record label executive was saying that in a physical store there are exponential “serendipitous” sales that simply don’t happen online (or at least not to the same degree).
Customers, media, and publishers often pay lip service to the need for physical bookstores. But this was the first time I had seen data that suggested, if these stores were to go away, outside of it being a cultural blow to their local communities, it would be a significant financial blow to the industry at large, specifically publishers.
So what does this mean? It says that publishers need to make sure that in their overall strategic planning, that their support to physical bookstores remains a very high item on their checklist. Some publishers have taken some very important steps in this direction. Some publishers have programs to ensure that their bestselling stock gets distributed as evenly as possible across all retail outlets (physical, independent, chain and online).
But what else can publishers be doing? One thought came from Mitchell Kaplan of Books and Books in
Maybe these are the answers, maybe they are not. Either way, I hope the publishers who were at Winter Institute heard what I heard and will begin thinking about further partnerships with their showrooms. If they are, I know myself and many other bookstore owners would be happy to explore future models.