Indie Booksellers and the Digital Transition

At yesterday's webinar called "Indie Booksellers and the Digital Transition: Opportunity Knocks?," sponsored by Digitalbookworld, topics ranged from the "fairy dust" and "magic" that independent bookstores possess to the nuts-and-bolts (and challenges) of selling digital books.

Concerning the recent news that major publishers plan to hold off on releasing e-book versions of new hardcovers, Patrick Brown, director of Internet marketing at Vroman's, Pasadena, Calif., pointed out, "Book customers are not the same as print customers at this point; I don't see this as preserving hardcover sales for us. We have to think about where book pricing is going." Stephanie Anderson, manager of WORD in Brooklyn, N.Y., agreed, adding, "Readers just want to read a book; if it's not available in the format they want, they'll read another book. They probably won't remember it when the e-book shows up. When a book comes out in paperback, there's a store display; I don't see that for e-books." She noted that small stores like hers just don't have room for such displays.

What about bundling: would packaging a print book with an e-version have value? moderator Debbie Stier, senior v-p, digital marketing director, at HarperStudio, asked. Bridget Warren, former co-owner of Vertigo Books in College Park, Md., replied, "At this time of year, people are looking for a physical book to give. Getting an e-book with would be a plus, upselling." Patrick said, "Bundling would work if it offered something special. Finding an elegant way to sell [e-books] is important." This led back to an essential issue: pricing.

Anderson said, "If a hardcover is $25, and you sell a hardcover plus e-book for $28, people will get the idea an e-book is worth only $3." Patrick continued, "E-books are worth what people will pay for them. Some people will pay more. But it doesn't make sense to me that they must all cost the same. Price [the e-version] at $16.99 when the hardcover comes out, and then drop it as demand changes--dynamic pricing. You can't treat digital product the same as print product. Experiment with pricing as the music business has done. Not all print books cost the same." But Warren cautioned, "From a bookseller perspective, it could be difficult to communicate price changes." Anderson agreed, saying, "As manager of a very small store, it has to be really simple. I'd love to try, but not if every publisher does it differently. In theory, I love the idea, but in practice...."

A good part of the conversation centered on the concept of the bookstore as the Third Place--a center for community. Brown said, "We always look for ways to bring people into the store and participate, to share their passion for books." Warren added, "One of our best events was when a well-known poet cancelled, but 85 people stayed and we sold a ton of books."

It's hard to create that sense of community online, Stier commented. Anderson pointed out, "Social media is a way to remind people of how wonderful it is to actually be in the store." "We need to focus on things we can do that software can't--focus on books as objects; limited editions; exclusivity with independent publishers; partnering with the local community," Brown suggested. Warren agreed: "We're part of the fabric of community, we need to do anything we can to strengthen that."

Wrapping up, Stier asked, "What can publishers do to help indies?" Warren suggested, "Integrate sales so the reps we know and trust sell e-books. Publishers need to make sure their reps are comfortable selling e-books, and ease pricing disparity for indies." Anderson wished for "Better communication, more openness, more back and forth. We have the same goal: we want people to buy good books." Brown said, "Publishers [need to] recognize how important we are to the ecosystem. Shelf space is advertising space."--Robin Lenz


Powered by: Xtenit