Brick Cave Books Home
by Bob Nelson
CEO, Brick Cave Media
Recently, one of my authors relayed a story from one of their fans in regards to acquiring my author's book. In my opinion, this story completely illustrates what is happening in the independent bookstore universe, and why if they don't change their mindset, most will soon be out of existence. For the record, this is also not the first time this type of story has been relayed to me.
"I went to find the book at..."
The story involved the fan travelling to a local bookstore in order to buy a copy a copy of the author's book. The fan did so at the suggestion of the author to promote said local bookstore, with the side benefit of demonstrating public interest in the book.
The fan did visit the store but did not find the book, and according to the fan, no effort was made by the bookstore to offer to order the book for them, or build any sort of relationship with the potential customer to acquire the book for them. The fan, having not found the book at the bookstore, instead ordered it digitally, and relayed back to the author that they loved the book.
It is not for me to speak to what the interaction at the local bookstore looked like as I was not present. My discussion is based purely on the fact that the customer asked, was told it wasn't there, and that was that.
Now, I KNOW for a fact that this bookstore is aware of the book, as Brick Cave had done an event there- with this author AND THAT BOOK in the recent past. Additionally, I can attest that the bookstore did at one point have the book, but returned them to me with a very nice note saying they were returning unsold books.
Financially, this scenario worked out better for us as the publisher as well as our author. Had the bookstore ordered a copy of the book from our distributor, the margins would have been much thinner. However nice it is, that is not the point The point is that the bookstores are basically putting themselves into a box of only selling what they are told to sell, if the book isn't put out by an incredibly shrinking pool of major publishers, bookstores are making no effort to acquire it.
They continue to remain trapped in a traditional retail environment in regards to logistics and product availability while the world is leaving them behind.
Who Really Loses Here
Let's say for this bookstore this particular scenario happen 5 times a week, 20 times a month, or 240 times a year. So now, this particular fan, who both has access to an electronic reader and has already learned that they may be better off just using the bookstore attached to said digital reader, has just has an unsuccessful buying experience with their local bookstore, but a alternate, successful buying experience elsewhere. The next time they decide they would like a book, what do you think they'll do? Go with what works, that's what.
Add in word of mouth and independent bookstores appear to make it harder on themselves than it has to be. With that attitude, it's only going to get worse.
Relationships Are Key...
As more author's self publish or work with smaller presses, they are bypassing the institutionalized structure of bookstore, agent and traditional publisher and reaching out directly to readers to generate fans. More and more authors, the motivated ones anyway, are using social media, alternate social events such as conventions and festivals, and tools that make managing large scale relationship building easier to bypass the gatekeepers. Ultimately, why would an author want to have their book sit on a shelf (spine out, because space is at a premium) with 1000's of other similar genre books, when they can build a compelling, immersive world around their books that creates fans from readers? All while transitioning from the chance of "accidental discovery" to proactively taking more control over that discovery process.
THIS was an opportunity to build a relationship with that reader for the store. Not just to order this particular book, but to offer to add them to their email list or suggestions list for similar titles, or invite them to share their thoughts on the book at the company's blog or website, or to come and talk about the book at a book club meeting.
Solutions Depend On Creativity
One creative solution is to make it known that people can order indie and small press book by pre-paying for them. Most bookstores don't like ordering indie titles through distributors because they are classified as "non-returnable", thus meaning the store assumes the entire financial risk for the order. It doesn't have to be that way, if a stores creates a policy where the customer can participate in a special "20" club. The customer pre-pays $20 for the book, and when the book comes in, and the customer picks it up, they get their change and the book. No show? You lose the $20, and the store gains the book. Perhaps for doing that, the customer received a discount of an additional purchase in the store as well.
Independent Bookstores can create an event centered around independent and small press orders, with one day a month being "Delivery Day" that people that have ordered small press and self published titles can pick them up. Stores can post lists of what was ordered over the last month, and set up a social hour for the customers to pick up, and share with other customers about the books they ordered.
What it comes down to, is that authors (and publishers) are less and less dependent on bookstores all the time, and as long as the bookstores continue to work from a place of exclusionary policy instead of inclusionary policy, they will continue to marginalize themselves in the ever changing marketplace of reading.