Saturday, March 23, 2013

Barnes & Noble forgets it has an online business

by Libby Sternberg

First came the digital revolution with Amazon leading the charge. No longer did readers have to browse bricks and mortar bookstores looking for a specific read. Amazon brought it to their fingertips.

Then Amazon pushed the revolution farther still when they realized their customer base included writers and not just readers. The bookselling behemoth reached out to writers, making it easy for authors to self-publish and reach readers on their own without a publisher middleman, and offering them royalty deals no publisher would ever dream of handing over to a lowly scribe.

But what about print? Authors love the feel and smell of a print book. Amazon had that covered, too. Through their CreateSpace services, authors can easily upload their manuscripts, even design a cover (or contract with Amazon's services for one) and, voila, within an amazingly short period of time--nothing at all close to the year-long wait most authors face from signing a publishing contract through til actual publication--a print book is in the writer's hand.

These innovations have also made it much easier for small publishers, such as Istoria, to get up and running, securing a boutique position in the publishing marketplace.

Amazon's innovations have been applauded by everyone in the industry.

Uh, no, scratch that. Actually, several of the Big Six (make that Big Five now) publishers allegedly colluded with Apple to keep ebook prices higher than Amazon wanted. In the ensuing legal battle, Amazon was treated like the Big Bad Evil Corporation Out to Destroy All that Is Good and Holy about Books (BBECODAIGHB, for short).

Speaking of BBECODAIGHB's, though, one of them used to be Borders.. Remember Borders--the Big Box bookstore everyone loathed for quite some time, seeing in it portents of the End of Bookselling as we know it? Funny how that attitude changed when Borders went belly up. Then, everyone was mourning the loss of this bookselling giant.

Now the only bookselling giant on the block is Barnes & Noble. B&N got into the digital field with the Nook (see this post about a marketing opportunity the Nook missed), but they've not embraced the other parts of the digital revolution as nimbly as Amazon.

And the latest news from the B&N front is this: they're limiting Simon & Schuster titles in their store because the publisher won't dance to their tune on ebook discounting and "costs associated with in-store promotions," according to a Wall Street Journal article today.  In-store promotions, by the way, include publishers paying for where books are displayed. Don't assume when you go in a bookstore that the managers and staff choose which books go on the tables that catch your eye. Publishers pay for that in-store real estate.

Anyway, according to the article, B&N "worries that consumers use its stores as 'showrooms' to find titles that they then order online at a discounted price."

Sure would be helpful if B&N also had an online business, too, wouldn't it? Then customers who can't find books in their stores could order a book through the B&N online service. They could have a short and snappy URL, too. Oh, something like, maybe, Just sayin'....

The cheese stands alone
Sarcasm aside, if Barnes & Noble is worried about losing customers to online retailers who can offer discounts, why doesn't B&N beat those etailers to the punch? When you walk in the door to a Barnes & Noble store, you should be walking in the door to their entire inventory, whether it's in the physical store or online.

Okay, for free, B&N, here are some ideas:

In every store, vigorously promote this slogan: Can't find it on our store shelves? Buy it on our eshelves! 

And then place computer screens around the store -- how about at the end of every other bookshelf?  And next to those screens (which are only linked to the website, of course) place coupons with discount codes for various genres. Mix it up, changing the discounts from week to week. It will draw folks in to see what kind of deal they can get the next time they come in. Even if some folks think they can get a better deal elsewhere, there is nothing like taking care of a purchase when you're thinking of it.

Barnes & Noble now stands virtually alone as the one bricks-and-mortar Big Box bookstore in the U.S. That's a tremendous advantage. They should stop sniping at publishers and competitors and start thinking about how they can use their advantage to attract customers to their physical and online stores.
Libby Sternberg is a novelist and editor-in-chief of Istoria Books.

Like Istoria Books on Facebook!

No comments:

Post a Comment