Thursday, August 11, 2011

On the Brick and Morter Book Closures - Who Is To Blame?

I was talking to my father-in-law a couple of days ago and the conversation of the Borders shut downs came up. He asked an interesting question that, as we started to talk about it further, we were really looking at the reason for the closures. Sure, we all know there was the bankruptcy issue and yada yada. But one twist that we started talking about is something that I think a lot of writers may not want to hear.

No, the issue was not a move to digital books. Sure there are a lot of sales in digitial books and sure there are a lot of people buying digitial readers, but I do think there is something more to it. We're talking about the online purchasing practices of so many Americans. In simple terms, due to technology, we have gotten lazy. It was so much easier to sit at our computer, or click an App on our phone/tablet, and order the book to have it sent directly to our home. Again, I am not talking about ordering it as a digital book, we're talking the real book here.

Authors too have had a huge hand in this (and yes, I as an agent am also to blame for this). How do we market our books? Our websites have links going directly to those online retailers. Our signature lines on all of our emails have those links. In our effort to make the sales go so much quicker, we have, in our own little way, assisted with the closure of these book stores.

Let's face it, one of the biggest things keeping the Barnes and Nobel Company alive was the sales of the Nook. What keeps Amazon alive? The answer is the Kindle sales (not the digitial books so much but the reader) and the other things they sell online.

I don't even want to get into the issue of used book stores (I've mentioned it here before) but those too have added to the closures.

What I am concerned with here is the lack of browsing and impulse buying most of us do that love to read. I know I have a hard time going into my Borders (which was on the chopping block) and buy just one book. I go in with a specific thing to buy and walk away with others that "just caught my attention." These authors just made a sale that if I had been buying things online, I would never have gotten.

I have really seen this with my 12 year old son. He got an e-reader this year for his birthday but he too can't browse for books. When he wants a new book, he has to specifically think of an author (no just stumbling on something good) and then hope the author has gone to a digitial format.

Although all of this tech is great and certainly fun to play with. There will be bigger prices to pay in the long run. Maybe it is a time to really consider what we are doing marketing our own books and make sure that we aren't running ourselves right over that cliff.



  1. I've been ambivalent about Amazon for a long time, and some of their recent business practices have sealed the deal for me. I don't buy from them unless it's some toy that I wouldn't be able to find in a local toy store. I am fortunate enough to have access for a great independent bookstore, and I can also browse a Barnes and Noble when the mood strikes me. Reading and shopping online have never made me feel as satisfied.

    I've got to disagree about used bookstores- those have been around for a long time, and I don't recall any "new" bookstores in my area closing because of them. In fact, I would say that they suffered first from the e-retail movement. I feel no guilt for buying something from such a store that I wouldn't have been able to have found in another kind of bookstore.

  2. I have had no choice but to turn to online sales. I used to go every two weeks to the local B&N to get new releases.

    These days they don't stock new releases on release day (or three days) and even two to three weeks later you can't find that new release on the shelf yet. Oh they will order it for you...but if I have to order...why not do that myself.

    I went to book club last night with a list of 3 books to buy. I also remembered two more older titles I needed to pick up while there. I walked out with only two titles because none of the other titles were in stock.

    One book was 2 weeks old, one book was a week old and the last was from January. I can understand them not stocking the January one. But not the new releases.

    I love browsing the store and buying a print book but you need to stock books for me to buy. This is not a new trend. In fact it has become such a problem over the last 6 months that I've seriously considered switching to ebooks.

    If I have to order a book online to get it anyway, I might as well get the instantaneous gratification instead of waiting a week for the paper book.

    Although I'd still prefer to read the paper book. But if I can't get the paper copy why hold out.

  3. Okay, for me - and I will gladly admit this - it is a question of money. I love walking into a bookstore and browse, making a list of what books I want. But I will buy them online, saving some very serious dollars. Sometimes the difference can be as much as $15 for coffee table type books, which is insane.

    And yeah, used books are great, but I never find any new titles there - only tend to buy classics pre-owned.

  4. I love browsing. I love my Kindle. I would love to see the online booksellers redesign their virtual shelves to make them more "browsable."

  5. Amazon hasn't made me lazy, thank you very much. Amazon has made me able to buy more books at lower prices, and enabled me to buy any book I can think of. I love browsing in bookstores and can still spend a couple of hours in a B&N (since I do still buy some print books), but Borders for the last several years, even well before I got a Kindle, just has not had the books I wanted to purchase on their shelves.

    Like Ilima before me, though, I would love to see online retailers make their books even more browsable. This happens a little bit with the "People who bought this were also interested in..." and tagging, but surely new and better ways can be developed.

  6. My online purchases have nothing to do with laziness, it has to do with price. I can buy something from Books-a-Million in the store for usually double the price of their OWN online price! I paid $11.46 for a book for my son online from them that was $24.99 in their store WITH my discount card. Same thing with a cookbook I bought the other day at BAM. It was $27.99 in store, $16.99 online with free shipping with my discount card. It's a no-brainer. (and NOT lazy to want to save money)
    And yeah, Amazon has even deeper discounts. As sad as I am that Borders is closing, I can't help but feel like they were largely to blame (sorry, but my opinion.) Why would I pay $34 for a dvd from Borders when I could get the exact same one from Target for $14.99? If they don't want to price competitively, then yeah, they stand little chance of surviving in this economy...

  7. I'm very much an on-line browser. Because I have two little ones, and one has Asperger's and the other has a serious speech delay, it's very hard to get out and about, especially in the large metro area I live in. That time I spent as a singleton or without kids just isn't available to me now.

    I knew very little about the romance genre when I started reading to educate myself (I knew what I was writing wasn't literary fiction and better get a handle on what was happening in the genre). So I started following what I call bunny trails on Amazon, just as I do with blogs, twitter people, others in workshops I've been in, etc. I'd never be able to do this in a brick and mortar BAN store. Between reviews and the sample feature of my Kindle, I've purchased scads of books I never would have noticed, or sought out, at my near-by BAN.

    I grew up in a very small town in East Tennessee with one bookstore that had an inventory that never changed. One of the most exciting things about visiting my grandparents in Atlanta was going to Rich's department store's 'hurt book counter'. It was an absolutely huge department and our family of bibliophiles would fan out over the entire area, meeting up hours later with armloads of finds - some for ourselves and some for other family members. The only other time I've had such extended, and usually meditative, visits to a bookstore was at French's Theatre Bookshop in London. At both places, you could spend hours, have a nice discussion sans attitude with a bookseller, and come away with things you didn't know you were looking for. Minus the personal interaction (though I'm used to missing adult interaction these days lol), my Amazon shopping in the most similar to those visits to Rich's.

    I look at chain bookstores as a means to an end, an in and out sort of trip for a classic, a piece of non-fiction, or a few new books for my littles. I know it's not this way in every case, but in my area, independent bookstore equals a long drive to shop with hipper-than-thou patrons and owners for books they consider themselves too intelligent to carry anyway.

  8. The bookstore translated fairly easily to my Kindle Store. I have as yet been unable to leave the Kindle Store with just one book and I often go there just to browse with no idea of what I really want. If you saw my credit card bill, you'd know I'm telling the truth.

  9. Deb,

    The issue with the used book stores is how it hurts the author. Remember, sales of used books do nothing for the author. The only hope is that the reader gets hooked enough to want to go out and buy a new book by that author. Unfortunately, for many who frequent used book stores, they will just wait for different book to show up by that author.

  10. Scott,

    I guess my purchases are different than others. Think obscure titles about Museum Education, philosophy, history or cookbooks/arts and crafts books that I never see sold "new". I must not have the same used bookstores around me as others, because the fiction titles I see are usually a few years old, at least.

    This is one of my favorites: :-)