Recently there has been a lot of talk about the demise of the printed book and the disappearance of the brick and mortar bookstore. As an avid reader myself and one who has read entire books on a Kindle now, I actually think the rise of the e-reader devices may be a boon to small independent brick and mortar bookstores if they can see the silver lining in the clouds ahead. Here are some reasons that e-reader devices may actually benefit your favorite local bookstore:
1. E-reader owners read more books. This can only be a good thing as more book reading should produce more book buying. The most important marketing tool that any small business relies on is word of mouth. If your best customers (avid book readers) are reading more, they will recommend more. If they recommend more, people will be more likely to buy the books that are recommended in both an e-book and physical form.
2. E-reader owners buy more books. The data now shows that e-reader owners not only read more books, they buy more books. In many cases they are downloading books for free on their Kindles and then buying the “real” book in a bookstore or on-line if they actually like they book. Why would they do this – both to have the book as a keep sake and to give away.
3. Avid book readers were not always a bookstore’s best customers anyway – contrary to popular opinion, some of my best friends that loved to read were not my best customers. They often used the local library as their primary source of books because they could not afford to purchase as many books as they wanted to read. When they found a book they really liked, they did buy it and made sure I knew so that I could consider keeping a few in stock.
4. E-reader data can help with better inventory management of new titles – One of the biggest challenges in running a small independent bookstore is making bets on new books that are coming out. With so many titles to choose from, it is easy to make a bad decision and get stuck with too many books on the shelf from an author you thought would sell well. Now you can wait until a book comes out and watch the sales data on Amazon in both print and digital forms to see what is actually selling in real time and react accordingly. Given the fact that we can get books within 24 hours in many cases, we have the ability to curate both our front and back lists much more effectively.
5. We can spend inventory dollars more effectively on core back list – our core back list titles that have been our bread and butter will only become even more important in this digital age. E-reader owners, who are more likely to have been avid book readers in the first place, are prone to be the first to try new books and to have more diverse and even obscure tastes in books. In the past we had to be sure to stock a wider selection of new books and a deeper selection of back list to keep these customers coming back to our stores. As these folks switch more and more to a digital only reading habit, we can focus our limited resources on great books that continue to sell well every day and supplement them with new books that already have a proven track record on-line.
6. The E-reading experience is actually reminding some people why they loved the physical book experience in the first place. Some of the earliest adopters of the Kindle and other e-reader devices as now actually discontinuing their digital reading habits and switching back to physical books again. This is not because e-readers are simply a fad (I do believe e-readers are here to stay), but because many of us that are avid readers also value the tactile experience of turning printed pages, enjoy the simplicity of turning off our latest gadget and have had enough of “screen time” in our daily lives.
As a bookstore guy, I am now encouraged more than ever that e-readers devices can be our friends and not just the enemy to be ignored, avoided or even castigated. With every new technology challenge that we face, there will also be opportunities to exploit. On-line retailers reminded us of our special role are curators of content and helped us to improve our unique in store selections. Big Box stores reminded us that while a good selection of books is important, the right selection of books is even more important. Mass Merchandisers like Wal-Mart reinforced the reality that our customers need good prices and helped us to become more price competitive and even innovate with bargain book sections and value priced books everyday. This new e-book challenge will only do the same as we remind people daily that there is nothing quite like the feeling of holding, smelling, reading and enjoying a physical book and then giving one to a friend.