Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Future of Bookstores

"In looking over the F&SF shelves, there was a very clear pattern. All that was left were the most recent paperback releases of name authors." L. E. Modesitt, Jr.

I've seen this pattern in most bookstores myself, including independents, Barnes & Noble, and Borders. I've even told management in these stores that I would have bought more if they'd bothered to stock Books 1 & 2 of so-and-so's trilogy. But they probably lack the power to change that. By not stocking the backlist, they reduce their own sales. But if they did stock every author's backlist, arguably, they'd soon run out of space.

Because of this trend, however, I am buying more and more books online. Amazon has better prices anyhow, and I don't have to spend another $25 for their discount membership. I've never quite gotten how I save money by spending the amount of a hardcover to get a savings club membership card. Waldenbooks Otherworlds Club discount card was free. With Amazon, I not only get a free discount, I can be pretty sure that they'll have the author's backlist.

The downside to Amazon is that there is far less impulse buying. The consumer is far more likely to only buy the book by the author that they're looking for and not pick up the book on the next shelf because it looks interesting. Amazon doesn't have shelves. And sometimes I wonder who decides on the books that show up at the bottom of the screen that proclaim "People who liked X also liked A, B, C, D."

But I remain aware of new and mid-list authors, and I look for them a couple of ways.

The used bookstore is my first stop there. I don't spend as much on the book, so I'm a lot more willing to take a chance. If I like the book, I'll add the author to the list of who I'm looking for at Amazon.

Another method is to read the reviews on Locus. Not 100% foolproof, but they have turned me onto some great books over the years.

I don't know what the solution is for the brick and mortar bookstores, but if I had to guess, it's going to be POD. Problem is, there's not much difference between shopping online and browsing POD titles. You can't pick up the book and skim a few pages. I've heard that it will soon be possible to have a POD kiosk inside a bookstore. You select your book, pay for it, and the machine prints and binds it while you wait.

This might be the solution for backlist. Put the newest offerings on the shelves to attract customers, then have the other books obtainable through the POD. One stop shopping that's actually competitive.

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1 comment:

Sarah Laurenson said...

I like the POD idea. Seems like I read about that becoming a real possibility.

Borders has a free membership with discounts, coupons and the like, so they still have my loyalty. My main concern with buying from Amazon is that I want authors to receive a higher royalty from my purchases. Mostly because I would prefer a higher royalty return when I'm published. That's also why I like to find indies and buy from them.

I love walking through a bookstore and perusing the shelves for what strikes me. Cover art is key and so is the first page. Maybe, some day, when I have money to burn, I'll open a large bookstore and carry all sorts of debut authors.