>I remeber all to vividly that allure… that sheer voluptuous abundance, that could just never be mine. Oh how I desired it. Lusted for it… I am talking about a bookshop of course – as 21 year old South African staring into the wonder that was Forbidden Planet in London. There were more sf/fantasy books in that one store than in all of South Africa’s shops put together (at that time – back when your parents rode to work on their dinosaurs and businesses were pretty spiffy if they had a fax machine – half a shelf of sf books was a lot). And not only did they have books by all my favorite authors, but they had OLD books of theirs. And they had shop assistants who loved and knew SF. I was going climbing for 6 weeks in a small one man tent with my girlfriend Barbara. We had about as much spare space as there is in a church-mouse’s cheeks and were roughly as well-off as same church mouse (some things are a natural state of being, I guess). I still came out with 5 books – 3 of which I still have (movies have almost no retention time compared to books. The influence sphere of books goes on and on.) And they got wet and battered and re-read… and re-read.
I dreamed of going back there – It’s gone bust, been sold and retail isn’t what it used to be. Soulless chains full of other non-book garbage, shop assistants who can’t read, let alone have read my kind of books, or, possibly worse are English literature students at the local Uni scared of being tainted by ‘enjoyment’ in books. Backlist? What? Order? huh?. And out of this a chaos the internet bookstore was born – which has some positives but has played havoc with the independents. But there are still are some – Here’s an article a few in the UK http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/7598617/Britains-best-independent-bookshops.html
Which brings me to what I was going write about, as a sort of follow on to Dan’s post. Because at the end of the day we need some way of matching readers with writers… because basically, all of them from Jeff Bezos to Steve Jobs to the CEO of McMillian are wrong. It’s actually not about price – or only minorly. It’s about volume. And volume only works when you match customer and product. And it’s no use having a book stashed somewhere in case the customer asks for it. The customer doesn’t know he wants that specific item – the customer actually has to make contact, pick it off the shelf, and like what he reads. There are what? 400 million? English first language speakers out there. And for at least half (the other half need ipods that say “breathe in-breath out” or they’d drop dead from suffocation) of them there is a book they will love, and hunt for anything else like it or written by the same author IF they find it. So… how come the entire publishing edifice is being maintained by maybe a million book a week or more regular readers? With the runaway bestsellers being maintained by the book a year people… who still at best are maybe 10-20 million. So it’s an industry that simply fails to serve 90% percent of its possible customer base at all, and in fact is only working in any semblance of ‘properly’ for about 0.5% of its capacity. At full volume, prices of books could reflect a tiny margin per book and still be profitable. Which loops back round to bookshops and how writers interface with readers… because without that interface the system becomes even more inefficient (hard to believe). We can do without publishers… but not without that interface. Now, the logical answer to making more money out of books, is not the agency model, or even gypping authors out of more of the tiny piece of cover price they get now. It’s increasing volume. And logically, the internet should make it possible. But it’s a vast sea and getting the right readers to FIND the right writers for them is very very difficult. At the moment, as I see it we’re reliant on bookstores (for the pick up and browse factor) and Amazon for the I know more-or-less what I am looking for match. Apple have come white-knighting to make sure publishers continue to dominate the access to retail.
So: favorite bookshops – what do they do right? And how do we match the reader writer. And what are the best options for alternative retail shop-windows?