Pubwest and the Future of the Bookstore

by Adam on October 26, 2012

I’m attending Pubwest this week, which those in the book world may know is in Keystone, CO. I have to suspect that the decision to be in Keystone was motivated by a combination of the membership’s locality in Colorado, the need for a cost-effective conference model, and a general love by those who live here of 18 degree weather and moderate October snowfall (on this last point, I am not kidding).

The sunrise is certainly worthwhile, I’m looking forward to more of those throughout this weekend.

One thing I always enjoy about Pubwest though is that, outside of some of the bigger conference models, there’s a real hardcore focus here on the independent bookseller and publisher, how they can work more closely together and what the benefits are (if it isn’t obvious). I’m speaking on a panel about new ways to use content, and even though the conference is only in Day 2 right now, I have at least one take-away about the bookstore of the future (which perhaps is a no-brainer to everyone else who has already thought of it).

Oren Teicher, head of the American Booksellers Association highlighted it best in the following statistic: 1/3 of the book-buying public finds out about books in brick-and-mortar bookstores. 25% of that same book-buying public ends up buying those books they’ve discovered online. That’s not a sustainable model.

Clearly, the more that bookstores can do to keep sales within their four walls, the better. And that doesn’t mean doing a better job selling consumers, it means a better job fulfilling their needs.

Why do consumers end up buying online after finding a book in a store? To distill it to two main points, I think it’s the following:

  • Pricing
  • Convenience
On the first point, it’s all a matter of margins, and perhaps bookstores can’t do much to improve there (although there are several successful pilots for consignment models with indie pubs and booksellers that seem to be working well). On the second though, why can’t bookstores do better? Why can’t the brick-and-mortar stores become showrooms rather than sales channels?
Here’s one idea: don’t put the work on the consumer to find the book and expect them to complete the transaction while deciding on the books they want. Let’s all whip out our iPads and Square apps and take the model mobile. This serves two very beneficial purposes, the first being that it makes it very easy to transact in-store and while a consumer is still considering a purchase. The second is that, theoretically, if the consumer wanted to ship a book from the store to their home, all of those details could be worked out mid-transaction. And, then instead of a consumer having to bring the book to a register to have it processed and held, the bookseller could just catalog and compile all of the orders and then send them out enmasse at the end of the day or week. There could even be a model where a bookseller only has one copy of a particular book and then buys additional copies as orders for that book comes in. Whew, now we’re unlocking free cash-flow and can actually offer more books.
Maybe it’s basic, or maybe it’s far-fetched, but there are so many retail outlets that are starting to change the way they think about retail that the more bookstores can do to jump on that bandwagon, the better.

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