When Booksellers Compete … We All Win

The last few years have not been kind to the literary industry. Independent bookstores are closing shop. Readership is declining. Technology is throwing everyone for a tailspin. And agents and publishers are taking fewer and fewer chances on debut authors.

It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if the publishing industry isn’t begging for the Mayans to be right so they could see an end to all of this. (Ok, I know, extreme)

The other morning I heard a business report on Barnes & Nobles falling stock prices and a lower than expected holiday sales season. In this story, the reporter said that B&N expected higher numbers due to the recent closure of Borders. Then I realized: in this industry, the loss of a competitor doesn’t mean a larger market share for the remaining company, it means decline overall.

OK, business majors. This is where you can rip into me. I’ll wait patiently before sharing my thoughts …

Done?

My turn. Yes, I know it’s a business and it has to turn a profit to keep employees employed and the bookshelves stocked. But rather than try to put each other out of business, shouldn’t the booksellers support each other. Think about it: the more bookstores out there, the more reading and literature will be top of mind, and the more that it’s top of mind, the more someone will think, “maybe I should buy a book” next time they are bored.

Years ago, one of my clients was a global coffee chain. Any time this company would go into a new market we’d get hammered by people saying that they were trying to put the “moms and pops” out of business. But, in reality, it was the opposite in the majority of the cases. This company through its high brand awareness and advertising dollars raised the top-of-mind awareness of coffee shops in the market, and the moms and pops actually saw an increase in business because not everyone liked the global chain’s coffee or prices.

Now, I know this is a coffee and books comparison and some booksellers can offer a deeper discount by the sheer volume of purchases. But, I’ll be honest. I went to the one bookstore left in my area (B&N) last week to get a coffee and roam around, and it was packed and made me yearn for my dearly departed Borders where I could peruse in relative silence. And, I would have paid a couple of dollars more for the same book I got just to be able to do that. (For the record, I was thrilled to see B&N packed)

Where does this leave us? I think everyone is trying to figure that out. I purposefully left out e-readers. In the same earnings report, they said that B&N is trying to figure out what to do with the Nook, but it’s currently losing money even though they know this is the way readers will go. And I’ve got an Amazon purchase history going back to 1997 so I’m not free from sin myself.

Maybe the publishing industry needs to ban together like the beef council did and do a targeted awareness campaign. Instead of “Beef, it’s what’s for dinner,” they should go with something like “Reading is the best defense against stupid people.”

Yeah? No? Ok, I’m open for something else.

About Kimberly Packard

Kimberly Packard is an award-winning author of women’s fiction. She began visiting her spot on the shelves at libraries and bookstores at a young age, gazing between the Os and the Qs. Kimberly received a degree in journalism from the University of North Texas, and has worked in public relations and communications for nearly 20 years. When she isn’t writing, she can be found rollerblading, doing a poor imitation of yoga or curled up with a book. She resides in North Texas with her husband Colby, Oliver the cat and a 75-pound lap dog named Charlie. Her debut novel, Phoenix, was awarded as Best General Fiction of 2013 by the Texas Association of Authors.
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6 Responses to When Booksellers Compete … We All Win

  1. I see so many different articles every week about people’s interpretations of the changing publishing industry (people who should have some idea, like industry ‘experts,’ editors, blah blah.) Some are incredibly pessimistic, others try to prevent several sides, but in the end just makes everyone more confused.
    I don’t think anyone knows exactly where all of these changes are heading, but I completely agree with you on the entire concept of what’s good for one, is (mostly) good for all. Reminds me very much of Nash’s economic principles.
    Excellent interpretation!

    • I know, the industry seems to have low morale right now, and I can’t really blame them. I was going through my Querytracker.com list of agents the other day to get ready for some more queries and found that about five or six that I had marked as to query are no longer agents.

  2. Frank Bishop says:

    When Borders went out of business, that was a good time for buying books. I enhanced my collection with not a cream but a large overzealous purchase of 15ish books.

  3. Frank Bishop says:

    Also you can’t fix stupid. When we have to put warning labels on preparation-h bottles, I lost faith in the ability to turn things around.

  4. Interesting post. I see you’ve found yourself in the aftermath of the War on Literacy as well. It is sad to see the the bookstores closing, though I never cared for Borders in the first place; but that’s a different story altogether. I see the analogy you’ve made between mega-coffee chains and the mom-and-pop stores. Yes, on the one hand the McCoffee has brought the idea of coffee to the forefront of people’s consciousness. On the other hand, I don’t think it has raised people’s awareness of coffee. I’ll call a spade a spade and just use Starbucks as an example. Is it popular? Yes! But is it good coffee? How many people who order a double-pump venti soy milk machiato have really had Turkish coffee? Or tinto from South America? Or an actual espresso in the European sense? So I get the general analogy, but feel there’s more to it than market presence. E-books may be en vogue, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything better to read than Borders once held on its disorganized shelves. People just don’t read. Sadly, it’s passe. And yet you and I keep writing.

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