Thursday, June 21, 2012
Book Places in the Digital Age
Book Places in the Digital Age
An Ignite Presentation by Tony Sanfilippo, Penn State Press
1 I want to talk today about book places. While book places come in a variety of manifestations, the two most popular are libraries and bookstores. And unfortunately, both are in decline. Last year Borders folded, closing 800 stores and removing millions of books from our communities.
2 We now have less than half the number of indie stores than we did just two decades ago. Almost every day we hear about libraries cutting staff, hours, or holdings. And many libraries have chosen to remove books to make room for more computers.
3 Book places are clearly under attack, as any marketing or sales manager in this room can attest. Stacks are being converted to computer kiosks, or nook demonstration counters. And last year, just before Christmas, Amazon paid their customers to go into stores to check prices against Amazon’s, and then report back.
4The practice coined the term “showrooming” referring to shoppers who use real stores to inspect items before purchasing them online. But this got me thinking; maybe if we can’t beat them, we should join them. I also started to think about other things bookstores and libraries had in common, and if there were ways to combine them.
5 So I started to imagine a model Book Place that was a little bit of both and that treated the book on the shelf as more than only a product. Then I tried to imagine what that might look like structurally. It would need a commitment from the community, which is why a member owned co-op might be best.
6 It would also need access to a catalog the size of Amazon’s, which reminded me of this, the Espresso Book Machine. With over seven million titles in its catalog, the EBM can print and bind any one of those titles in about five minutes. Now, to better understand how this store slash library might work, let’s consider three perspectives.
7 How does the store work from the customer’s perspective, the bookseller’s, and the publisher’s. The customer walks in to what appears to be a normal bookstore, though one with a book-making machine next to the register, but the first significant difference is evident when they pull a book from the shelf...
8 and they see this sticker, offering a new copy, shipped from the publisher (or printed on site, should the title be available from the EBM), or they can buy the used/display copy. They can also borrow the book, free if they’re a member, or they can buy a DRM-free ebook edition, if they’re a member.
9 The bookseller sees this, which is notable for what’s missing—the invoice. This program would need to be a consignment arrangement for a couple of reasons. Both consignment and co-ops are exempt from Robinson-Patman, and because a member-based co-op won’t have start-up capital for inventory.
10 Finally, here’s what we publishers see. Income, not just from sales of the books in that box, but from five different sources: The used/display copy sales, new copies, POD copies, rental income, and ebooks. Now, I’m one of you, so I already know your concerns. And I can address them all with one simple word.
11 You might ask, why should I trust this new-fangled account type? How many Kindle editions did you sell last year? How do you know that? You are already trusting a bookseller, an online bookseller, and one that is openly hostile toward you.
12 The other instance where you would need to trust is that DRM-free eBook. Even in these incredibly tight times I would ask you all to consider our mission. We should be in the lead on this. If you hate channel-lock as much as I do, don’t be afraid to experiment.
13 The structure of this new kind of book place might also be a reason to go DRM-free. The people you would be selling those files to have a stake in the store. If they mis-use the files, they are hurting their own store, compromising their own investment, injuring their community.
14 When I ask people this related question, it is always answered the exact same way: If your library sold books to support itself, and offered almost everything available at Amazon, where would you buy your books? What I’m proposing is likely to engender the same kind of loyalty.
15 So if the line between bookstores and libraries began to fade, and Lookstores started lending books, how might that impact revenues? Well, first you could be making money when your book was lent, and unless you’re a Australian publisher, this would be new revenue for you.
16 And yes, you did provide that lending copy on consignment, but has a library ever paid you for anything after that first sale? This one will. Every time that copy prompts a transaction. And you get to choose which books go into this particular library.
17 There’s one more reason we ought to consider this model. It could potentially end the practice of returns. Since nothing is purchased on speculation, returns may not be necessary. A book stays in a Lookstore until it sells, at which point the publisher can then choose if they want to send another copy, or a new title.
18 But perhaps my favorite feature of this model is how green it is. Few returns, if any. Books printed where the customer is, so little or no shipping. And e-books. Think of the trees and miles that could be saved. And all those smirking boxes that might be avoided.
19 So, if we want to avoid this, we as publishers need to experiment. We have to take risks. We need to work with stores and libraries that want to experiment. And we need to be proactive in determining our own future. As long as there are readers neither bookstores nor libraries need to close.
20 By combining the best of both worlds, it is possible to create an institution that both promotes book ownership, while providing access to content in what ever form that the customer—member—patron—reader desires. Thank you.
This presentation is based on a blog post I wrote for the AAUP's Digital Digest Blog.
The images were either from my personal collection, Reddit's BookPorn subreddit: http://www.reddit.com/r/bookporn/ or Flickr's Creative Commons collection (including the Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums), The first of the two videos I used (showrooming) came from the Public Domain Prelinger Archives, http://archive.org/details/Wonderfu1960. The second came from University of Michigan's Main Library YouTube video, http://youtu.be/kXr5mcGCxmk