Nathan Bransford, Author


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

What Is Your Advice to Bookstores?

We've talked a whole lot about e-books this past week, about the new Kindle millionaires, how e-books are priced relative to hardcovers, and I even confessed that I find e-books superior to paper (but still buy paper books, swear!)

What would you tell a bookstore owner in this landscape?

What could they be doing to survive or even thrive amid the chaos?






113 comments:

Munk said...

Service, service, service and a unique, inviting presentation. Take a walk through a Borders checkout and then stand in line at Powell's in PDX, you can't help but see the difference.

Jenny said...

Be THE community place! Meetings, readings, inviting enviornment, and on and on.

Anonymous said...

My ideal bookstore:

* nice coffee shop
* nice selection of new and used books
* community activities
* good staff that understands books

I think the future is in mom & pop used bookstores.

abc said...

A great children's play area. When your kid is young and you need things to do, it is awesome when a bookstore has a whole set up full of wonder. Bookpeople in Austin is great.

There is a little bookstore in my hometown of Dixon, IL (called Books on 1st) which is a gathering place for retirees meeting over coffee as well as the local book lovers and those seeking a cappuccino. My parents were twice interviewed by Charles Gibson here as part of his series where he traveled America finding out how the recession was affecting "regular folks". It's small town, but it is also independent in spirt and it serves lattes! The children's area is filled with magic. And the owner, Larry, always knows your name. I love that place.

Boon said...

I'm a bookstore owner and we are thriving. Sales last year were up 80% over the previous and this year (so far) are up about 100% over last year.

We jealously curate what we sell, only offering about a hundred titles at any one time but guaranteeing that every book we sell is a rock-solid, life-changing read. We don't stock bestseller list crap like Franzen, Meyer, or Patterson so our customers have learned to trust us. That, in our opinion, is what the publishing industry has failed to understand. Readers have to trust you. Most publishers and, by extension, bookstores have lost the public's trust by trying to cater to too large an audience. We've tried to fix that and the response has been overwhelming.

Lynette Eklund said...

Public events and an educated staff willing to step out from behind the counter to recommend books.

Emily White said...

I prefer reading on an ereader. That being said, I also prefer browsing for books in a bookstore. It would be nice to be able to go to a bookstore and upload and buy an ebook much the same way you scan an item into a gift registry. Obviously this isn't possible yet, but it would be nice if bookstores thought ahead and actually built this option into the ereaders they provide.

And of course, I could always browse at a bookstore and then buy the ebook through my kindle, but unless a store has free wi-fi, that's not possible.

Yes, I'd like the experience of a bookstore (with the coffee shop, chairs to sit and read for a bit, wide array of covers to peruse through) along with the ease of purchasing through an ereader.

Anonymous said...

Change the retail model. Stop the nonsense of only stocking heavily marketed books that make all bookshop shelves the same. Promote and create relationships with local authors, Indie or otherwise.

Personal service, coffee lounge etc.

Susan Toy said...

Specialize. Become the expert in a particular field, or genre, and the store will become the go-to for all fans and readers. Or champion local books and authors. Then use social media to promote far and wide. The biggest mistake any indie can make is to try to compete with the chains, and be all things to all people. Raise the bar; make the big-box stores compete with you.

Liz Fichera said...

Make it an inviting meeting place. Instead of the snobbery against people who prefer e-books, invite people to bring their e-books. And leave the cats at home.

Craig Rayl said...

Support Authors!! I guess authors might get tired of touring a lot, but we need more of them getting out of their homes and sharing their stories. Bookstores should start teaming up with publishers and present a more interactive experience that can be on the internet and in the store. The Mega-bookstore is finished Ma and Pa stores have to be more personal and the authors have to promote more.

Lynette Eklund said...

Boon, you're wise. Best-sellers are more likely to be purchased through the internet anyway. They don't need your personal recommendation so much. Yours sound like a bookstore I would like!

LGM said...

I'm lucky enough to live in a city with a lot of great bookstores, and the ones that are thriving, and that I enjoy most, tend to have a few common elements.

First, they're inviting. The store seems welcoming, the people who work there are willing to chat about books. They are happy to have children come into the store. Browsers are welcome and there are chairs and cozy nooks.

Second: They're specialized. The best small bookstores often have a clear focus. I live near an amazing children's bookstore (Curious George & Friends), for example, and just everything about it is wonderful for kids. Another store just has travel books, every single kind you could ever want.

Third: They're personalized. Even the bookstores with a broader array of books have ways of connecting to their audience. Events, posters, staff favorites in the window, local writers featured, joint projects with other local businesses. You feel like you know the people who run the store just looking at it.

All of these things combine to make going to the bookstore something fun to do, which I think is really important.

btownbangles said...

Go back to smaller bookstores with shop owners who really love books - mom & pop stores are the way to go - artisan is the way of the future. The soulless corporate stuff has got to go no matter what industry we're talking about, from food, to film, to publishing. When everything becomes only about the bottom dollar, this kind of meltdown is inevitable. It's not about the money people. Seriously.

Ty Hutchinson said...

I asked my neighborhood bookstore if they would stock a couple copies of my book and the said they don't do independent books.

If they can't support me, why should I support them. Then I went and bought a Kindle. I love that thing.

I think some bookstores will adapt and some will go away. Used books might make a come back.

mzmackay said...

It's funny, my husband and I were just discussing this over the weekend, sparked by a visit to B&N. It was a Friday night, and the people milling about the bookshelves were scant, but the coffee shop area was overflowing, with patrons reading, studying, and talking.

I think the big box bookstores should downsize to cut down on their overhead. Enhance the social aspect of the place by holding more events, and keep the coffee shops. A service staff that knows and obviously, loves books, is most important too.

The independent booksellers have an edge now if they can enhance the social utility of their spaces. Hopefully, their pockets are deep enough to make the additional investments, or just surf the current tide of a very challenging economy.

Mr. D said...

It used to be my dream was to just get published. But now I have a new dream: My books are being sold at Boon's Bookstore!

Crotchety Old Fan said...

buy one of the POD printer/binders (I think they're only about 100k), make computers available in store, pick a niche that is emphasized (but stock more widely than that) and base your business model on selling lattes, gift cards and calendars.

Bring in in-house reviewers and prominently display excerpts of the reviews - let the locals know what other locals are reading and recommending; host as many cultural events as you can - think of the store as an entertainment center rather than a bookstore: make space freely available for writers groups, book clubs, etc.

Oh, and make everyone who brings an e-reader into the store stand on their head in the corner for an hour.

Mister Fweem said...

My advice: Surrender Dorothy.

I have lots of books. We've got shelves and stacks of them in the study, plus the five boxes, no, six, for which we've got no room. The kids' rooms are overflowing with books.

We get about 90 percent of them from the local thrift store. Another five percent comes through the book order forms the kids bring home from school. The rest come from used book purchases via the Internet.

Stocking used books is a good idea, if the prices are right. I laugh out loud at the prices at our regional used book store when I can go to the thrift store and find the same used books for substantially less.

I love all of you folks who go to the new book stores, buy new books, read them, put them on a shelf and then, after a while, get bored with them and take them to the thrift stores so I can buy them cheap. Keep it up. Don't buy e-books, though, they're not resellable.

Keep taking your rare and collectable books to the thrift stores, too. I've found several that are worth upwards of $30 to $50 at Powells for $2 or $3 at the thrift store.

Anonymous said...

Connect with a local coffee shop/cafe. My favorite bookstore is connected to a local coffee shop and they thrive off of each other. Coffee customers go next door to browse, and bookstore goers decide they need a coffee or a sandwich. Also, it supports your local economy by pumping the money back into the area, instead of to corporate hq.

Teresa Fannin said...

ebooks are neat. I love my iPad. But...and this is huge...when I find a book I like I want to share it, with my family, my critique partners and friends. Can't do that with ebooks, at least not yet. It's sort of like handwriting. I write a lot on my Mac, but when I'm stumped and I want to figure something out or I want to connect with a person I handwrite. Some things should never be considered gone. And I want a book store that caters to the tactile sense of holding onto books.

Kevin Lynn Helmick said...

I see the words community and events in a lot of these comments. I couldn't agree more. I like to know what's going on localy, with local writers. I live near Chicago so there's s lot of local talent as well as the big names coming around. Big chains are not very receptive to local talent unless you've sold a lot already, and I understand that, I do. But personaly I don't care much for the bestsellers. I find most to be like literary fast food, or Jersey shore. I like things arty
Coffee shop, for sure, plenty of seating,and internet and author events, the more the better, and location is everything.

Mary Aalgaard said...

I think bookstores that are also coffee shops and gift stores will make it. Stay unique. Be inviting. Have wi-fi and local art. Be the place that creatives like to hang out.

Kevin said...

Start selling video games!

Emma said...

Either have a great coffee shop w/ free wifi in the store, or create a partnership with one next door. Create a culture where writers and intellectuals want to hang out. Hold events for children.

dana bailey said...

While I love my ereader, I find myself wishing the current book I'm reading (Unbroken) was a hardback copy. I'm a page flipper and find it cumbersome to do that with an ereader. Plus, I would love to lend this to my husband to read, but he doesn't have an ereader, and though he could use mine, we read at the same time so it would not be feasable.

Booksellers will need to keep an eye on the niche that is a physical reader and those that are not, and stock accordingly.

They need to also have a website with their inventory listed, for those who prefer to browse online and then come to the store to buy or pickup.

I've always thought if I were to open a bookstore, which I'm not, I'd have a combination of bookstore/restaurant. I went to one in DC where the bookstore was on the bottom floor and the restaurant upstairs. The store was crowded with people waiting for a seat, and while they waited they browsed and bought books. I'd do a variation on that.

A bookstore needs to be cozy, yet encompass some of the big store technology. You need to embrace the browsers and the ones who don't have time to browse.

Martin Willoughby said...

- Do more for local self-published authors (after reading the book to make sure it's worth the shelf space)
- Run a book/writers club
- Coffee shop
- Friendly

In short, do the things that Amazon and the big bookstores can't (or won't) do.

M.A.Leslie said...

Being one of the people that spawned from your recent posts and released a book on the Kindle, I say stay open. I am a fan of the whole Amazon process, but I still love going to a book store a browsing. Maybe have more book signings, have events and workshops for kids, contests, and just make it fun.

I know it is a vague answer, but now that my book is on the Kindle I want it in print. The old will be able to survive with the new. I have to believe that.

Anonymous said...

M.A. Leslie, how did you spawn from a post??

kathrynleighaz said...

I think bookstores need to focus on providing something readers don't get from ebooks... they need to provide a culture and experience rather than just providing a product.

L.G.Smith said...

It's funny, whenever I go to Borders I feel like I'm in the way of the employees who are trying to stock the shelves. When I go to the independents (and I'm lucky to have three great ones) I feel like I'm browsing a friend's bookshelf and they can't wait for me to pick out a book so we can talk about it.

So my simple advice to bookstores would be to act friendly and love the books you're selling.

Ted said...

@ABC

You are so right with your suggestion of a great children's area. Also, I would advise bookstores to reach out to their local home school associations. They are always looking for new activities and places to hold gatherings.

Candice said...

I don't understand why there is no book/ebook combo pack for a few bucks more, like Bluray does with digital copy. I would buy a book with digital copy in a heart beat!

Maureen said...

Wow, great question. So much of what everyone has suggested is what I'd love to see in my local bookshop.
1) Independent; 2)Friendly/knowledgable staff that make the experience personal; 3)Curated with interesting book selections for browsing; 4)Coffeeshop; 5)Gathering place for community and host events; 6)Chairs- enough for the browsers and not just the nappers.

When I travel I love to visit the bookstores. Recently, our big independent closed. So sad. I have to say I'm jealous of cities/towns that have great bookstores.

Janiel Miller said...

I'm starting to feel like we're part of a faceless mass in society. Everything is big and homogenized. Disasters are everywhere and large scale. We don't seem to get listened to much by people in charge.

I want a bookstore that remembers ME, the individual. A place where I can go and see carefully chosen, unique books, pick from a wide variety of magazines, find lots of places to sit, as well as a staff who knows their product.

I want to be able to get something good to eat and drink. To maybe buy and upload something to my eReader on the spot - because I do use it and love it. But I also use and love and share books, so I need a place that offers both.

I'd like to bring my laptop, hook into my ideal bookstore's wifi, and be able to do research and write in a comfy environment.

I'd like to be able to schedule a book group, or critique group there, and maybe have a member of staff give us a presentation on something--their book recommendations, or buying trends they see, or how to get my book into their store, etc.

In other words, I want to love my bookstore. I want it to feel like home. Do that, and I'm there.

Natasha said...

I agree with Boon.

There are so many books to sift through and among them I've read a lot I didn't enjoy (yes...I'm the type who can't put down once I start). A store owner whose able to match my tastes with books would be awesome.

John Jack said...

Don't burn the coffee. The smells of scorched coffee and sticky sweet pastries is a turn off. As bad as moldy, mildewy foetid musts. Worst, a mixture of unpleasant aromas competing for cloying dominance.

Michael Offutt said...

I shop at a small bookstore sometimes and do so because of customer service. I think that's the key.

James Lewis said...

Adapt!
This metamorphosis is natural and was going to happen eventually. They should adapt, or face extinction. It’s not about what’s right, or wrong, or fair. It’s always about what the consumer wants. We drive the changes being made in any industry. If consumers were perfectly content with the way things were do you think they would change? Not a chance. If no-one liked reading from e-readers, they wouldn’t sell, and we wouldn’t be discussing it.

It makes me wonder what the discussions were like when the world was changing from scrolls, to books.

Taryn Tyler said...

Don't purposely not stock books that are being used in the curiculum at the nearest college so that they students are obliged to pay the ridiculous prices the campus bookstores charge the way Barnes and Nobles does.

jjdebenedictis said...

Good service--what does that even mean?

It means more hand-selling.

The thing a bookstore gives me that Amazon.com can't is a person who can listen to my tastes, then pull a title off the shelf and say, "This sounds like your cup of tea."

Good bookstore employees increase the signal to noise ratio, and with the massive number of books being published, that adds value to the shopping experience.

(Boon's tactic of only stocking "life-changing" books is an equally valid way for a bookstore to do this.)

M Kathy Brown said...

Just like a writer needs to, at times, think of his/her audience, so does a bookstore.

I personally prefer to hold an actual book, feel the paper when I turn each printed page, and use my nifty page markers.

Others prefer Nook/Kindle - especially with all the wonderful little extras you have at your fingertips while reading (e.g. word meanings) - and the *many* books one can have in one compact device.

Bookstores need to accommodate both audiences to "stay alive."

Fawn Neun said...

1) Get affiliate accounts at everyone online eBook retailer to sell downloads with a hard-copy of the book if possible.
2) Sell Nooks or other eReaders in house to download them to.
3) Lease and espresso machine to print books on the spot after purchase.
4) Book swaps and used books.
5) Events, signings, workshops, reading groups for all ages: singles groups with wine tasting, moms reading readings with daycare, writer's groups for classic fiction, kids groups, YA groups.
5) Coffee.
Yeah, I've thought this through.

M.A.Leslie said...

Sorry anon 8:18. What I directly meant was that I would have never thought to Epublish a book if I hadn't read about it here. I was inspired. Sorry I chose the wrong choice of words.

Munk said...

Go Boon!

Anonymous said...

Kevin, the video games are moving to downloads, too! Watch out, GameStop. Except for the market for used games, so maybe that's the future of bookstores--used. But probably not for long.

Nathan, isn't your choice of photo a statement in and of itself? :)

Whatever else Franzen is, he most certainly does not write crap. Would you also exclude Lahiri and Zadie Smith and Ha Jin from your bookstore because they wrote best sellers? Sometimes, you know, the public DOES get it right.

Lauren d. said...

Disclosure: I don't own an ereader, so I have no knowledge regarding the quality/reading experience of gbooks.

That said, I noticed a sign in my local bookstore's window the other day (Diesel Books on College Ave. in Oakland) advertising that you can now buy ebooks through them.

I just went to their website, and here's the link to buying ebooks through them: http://www.dieselbookstore.com/gbook/help/about

It's great to know that there is an option of buying ebooks while also supporting your local bookstore!

Liesl said...

I think it's obvious based on what everyone else is saying. You have to offer things that amazon.com and ebooks cant. Knowledgeable, friendly staff, Author signings and readings, story time, family friendly activities, host writing events. Essentially their also need to compete with all the things offered for free at local libraries and make them better so people will buy their books. Offer a cool environment that readers and writers, kids and families want to be.

G.P. Ching said...

I have to agree with the others who said bookstores need to reach out to local authors, especially indies. This does not have to be a free service but allowing indies a place in the store would be a great way to adapt to customer demand.

I also think the technology to allow the customer to browse paper books but download the ebook (with the physical bookstore getting a cut of the sale) would be an intelligent advancement.

Libby said...

Invest in coffee and cafe space. Our Borders cafe is always packed but the books remain on the shelves regardless.

D.G. Hudson said...

Get to know your local writers, and provide a gathering place for readings, book signings, and author events.

Bookstores need to accept self-pubbed authors of quality (be open to stocking some of these books). Offer what the BIG box bookstores Do NOT offer, create a writers enclave. Become personal where the big stores are NOT. Offer space for a critique group of writers on a slow night. What you give/sponsor will sometimes reap benefits. Charge minimal fees for that space.

Come into the 21st century, bookstores and step outside your comfort zone. Fund-raisers with a well-known author would bring some of the writers and readers together,(and don't charge outrageous prices). Attendees might come back to buy a book or e-book if they like your store and its attitude.

BTW - I couldn't believe a Margaret Atwood event here in Vancouver (not at a bookstore) was charging $100+ per ticket for a seat to hear her speak. That effectively prices it out of the new or average writers' or fan's reach. I doubt I would spend that to hear anyone talk about their book, (this was not at a conference but a separate event). I may like Atwood, but not at that price, thank you.

I love bookstores, but I think some of them are stuck in the mindset of the past. Most of them only want the established/best seller writers, and this elitism by the bookstores is what's hurting them. Personally, I'd like to see more new writers in all categories.

But will the bookstores listen? Let's hope so.

Ted Cross said...

Perhaps in a small way they could contribute to resolving the main problem we have with self-published books, i.e. getting the good ones noticed. I don't know, perhaps they could do lists for each genre titled, 'The best books you've never heard about' or something, have employees working hard to dig out the gems amongst all the self-published books and advertise them.

Suzan Harden said...

If you can, check out Murder By The Book in Houston. They specialize in mystery/suspense/thriller. The staff knows their merchandise inside and out. They support local authors with signings and talks. This is a place so marvelous that Jim Butcher started his Changes tour at MBTB even though it was a thousand miles from his home.

Rowenna said...

Make the bookstore a community. Make it a place I want to linger in, chat in, curl up by a fireplace or with the bookstore cat and read a few chapters. Make it local. Make it a haven. Make it more than a place to purchase--make it a place to peruse and bathe in the sheer pleasantness that is books. And yes, make some good coffee, too. Nothing makes me want to stay an extra hour more than a good cup of coffee.

Stephanie {Luxe Boulevard} said...

My advice? STOP CLOSING! A book I have been waiting a year for finally came out yesterday, so I headed over to Borders last night to buy it only to find out they're closing! I know I shouldn't be suprised by this since they've been closing stores left and right, but I've been going to that Borders for the seven years I've lived here. I prefer them to B&N. I get better service, sales, and discounts there. Every employee at my local B&N acts inconveniced when I ask where a book is located. Not to mention I don't have to pay for a membership at Borders.

I ended up buying my book at Walmart. WALMART! Walmart isn't for books. It is for groceries and household items.

Sorry for my rant. But this really disheartened me.

Steph said...

Customer service has got to be a priority. I can't tell you how many times I've been in our major chain book store and things are so out of order I can't find what I'm looking for and the staff has told me, "keep looking, it says we have it." That makes me want to order online or download an e-book just because I know I'll be able to get what I want.

Also, while at the same bookstore last weekend, I bought two books. Both hardbacks. I paid $26.99 for one and $24.00 for the other. With my discount card. When I got home, I debated whether I should've just downloaded the e-books because we are about to go on vacation and I didn't want to take a suitcase full of "real" books. I log on to the stores website and the HARD BACKS are listed at $12.99 and $14.00 if I ordered them online. That price difference is ridiculous.

If I can't find what I'm looking for at your store, and even your own website has it for half the price, why in the world would I want to keep coming to your store?

Sean said...

All great ideas. Bookstores will have to lower their prices and do what ebook stores can't by personalizing the distribution process. The best way to do that is by hiring true bookworms. An in-house Stephen King roller-coaster would also be nice.

Tana Adams said...

I hope they serve great coffee. Also, stock up on magazines. In all honesty my family treats bookstores like a glorified library. I do however purchase books each time I'm in them and begrudgingly so because I'm well aware I could get the same book for less at Amazon. Sorry, but it's the harsh truth.

Anonymous said...

Be the community place. POD capability. Order selected books based on local readers' reviews. Cool.
Like people - no Ivory Tower-I'm a Booksnob-attitudes. Serve drinks. :-D

J. R. McLemore said...

I used to spend my hour lunch break at a nearby Barnes and Noble. I'd read for 45 minutes in one of several plush chairs that occupied the rear of the store. I'd eat during the last 15 minutes and go back to work.

I accomplished a lot of reading this way because it was nice to get away from the office and get lost in a book in a quiet place with comfortable chairs. Also, if I forgot to bring my book, I could take one from the shelves (and more often than not, I'd end up purchasing the book once I got hooked).

That Barnes and Noble removed the chairs after several months. I still pop in to buy books, but I don't spend my lunch break there any longer. Somehow it's lost its quaint charm. Most bookstores I visit do not have a place for buyers to relax and read books. It's a shame and I think that is one thing that helped lend it a more comfortable environment.

Removing the chairs tells me that they want me to grab a book and go, not sit and enjoy being there.

Matthew MacNish said...

I have no idea.

Obviously the key is to provide something the big-box stores and websites do not. I'm not sure what an existing shop could do.

But I know what I would do if I was going to open an independent book store. I would combine it with a bohemian style coffee shop, filled with comfortable couches and armchairs, a stage that featured DJs and acid-jazz bands ... but absolutely most importantly ... I would make sure my employees loved to read, and knew so much about great books that they could make suggestions that would blow my customers minds.

There is nothing like meeting a sales associate who you can really count on to steer you toward things that will change your life. Some of my best friends have been clerks I've met in record shops.

Anonymous said...

Stand out from the bigger bookstores by supporting and displaying quality self-published books.

Jen P said...

Two of the top selling UK bookshops have diversified heavily into events, both hosting author events as well as speaking as experts at book events (Hayling Island), and have diversified into other markets - ice cream (SilverDell in Kirkham).

These two booksellers bring together the book buyer and author in a live-community experience (live interactive audience) in a way that e-books and the Internet sellers cannot do. Whatever it seems is successful in different individual models seems to share common attributes: they offer more than the paper book alone, they offer specialist knowledge and they offer an enhanced experience.

Neurotic Workaholic said...

I used to work in a bookstore, and I remember how hard it often was to make enough sales each day to help keep the store running. I might sound a little controversial when I say this, but I think that stores should take out the chairs and couches that are often used as "reading areas". I'm not talking about the cafes in stores; I'm talking about the places that people go to sit and read the books for hours without paying for them. I like browsing for books as much as the next person, but I do think it's important to buy books too to help support the business. When I was a bookseller, I have to admit that it did bother me a little when some people would treat the bookstore like their own living room.

Teralyn Rose Pilgrim said...

I've wanted someone to do this for years:

As much as I love bookstores, I never buy anything. I want to read reviews of the book first, and I usually can't find the book I'm looking for anyway. They need to have computers in the store. You know, like they do in the library. I shouldn't have to have a reason to go home and look up a book on my computer before I buy it.

Anonymous said...

Instead of snobbishly dismissing all genre books, as most indies stores do (trying walking into one and asking for romance), embrace the best of popular literature. Take the trouble to find the best mysteries, romances, sci-fi, etc. Separate out the good from the garbage and you'll have some grateful customers.

Doug said...

Hmmm. It seems like the most popular answers are:
1) become a place where people can hang out without buying anything, and
2) sell coffee and pastries.

I don't see how either of those approaches leads to a financially solid bookstore. One leads to going broke, the other to being a coffee shop instead of a bookstore.

My advice would be, "Ask your customers (the ones who are buying books) what it is that they like about your bookstore so much that they go to the trouble to make the trip to your bookstore and then pay a higher price for books than they'd pay on Amazon, plus (for most states) pay sales tax they wouldn't pay on Amazon."

I suspect most bookstore owners wouldn't want to ask that, though, lest the buyer realize how much time, effort, and money he or she could save by buying through Amazon instead.

[In case it's not clear, I'm using the word Amazon as synecdoche for all online booksellers.]

For me, a bookstore has nothing to offer that I can't get better, faster, and cheaper online, whether via e-book or Amazon. The only time I go to bookstores is for meetings being held there. I don't buy anything; I just go to the meeting. From what I can tell, the same is almost universally true of the other attendees. Well, some of them buy coffee.

DearHelenHartman said...

Echoing the word Community - serve readers and writers, build readers and help writers find readers, especially local one (remember the days of the regional bestseller that slowly built to a national phenom - not everything should be expected to be a hit right out of the box).
Hire people who care about books, who can talk about them, who can recommend the right ones for a reader not just the ones they deem 'good', who can interact with people. Hire creative people who want to do more than chat with the other employees and give them the autonomy to try new things. Encourage people to use the space for book clubs, for writer's meetings, for classes, for homeschooling outings, lots of things. Be open to new technology and helpful to people who are trying to learn to use it.

Anonymous said...

@Doug

Hmmm. It seems like the most popular answers are:
1) become a place where people can hang out without buying anything, and
2) sell coffee and pastries.


I agree.

This thread has devolved to "Gimme gimme gimme" and "What have you done for me lately?"

Nicole said...

Sounds like we all want The Shop Around the Corner - with Internet access and coffee - rather than Fox Books. :)

I do agree with Doug, though. As much as I'd love to hang out in a place like that, it'd be hard for store owners to make it a feasible business strategy.

Bryan Russell (Ink) said...

I'm not sure I'm the right person to answer that question...

rachelslessonslearned said...

Shrink and Diversify.

One of my favorite bookstores in CT is one in New Haven just across from the Yale Museum of Art. In the center of the main floor is a full kitchen with bar-type seating all around it, selling deli sandwiches, salads, wraps, deserts and pastries. There is also one ring of tables around it. the rest of the store is full of books, and the lower level is full of used books. Place sells both rare books, bestsellers, and books geared towards the Yale Intellectual Set (TM) and tourists. Next door on one side is a bakery and on the other is a pub. PLACE BE HOPPING, YO.

PJ Lincoln said...

If the current trend towards e-books continues, I'm not sure there is a business model that works for them long term. Bookstores, sad to say, simply aren't as relevant as they once were because of technology.

Other Lisa said...

Look, the successful indie bookstores DO sell books, and they do it by providing what a lot of people on this thread are suggesting: curated collections, community events, customer service, connecting authors with readers.

And location is huge.

Look at Murder By The Book in Houston or Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego. These stores thrive.

If I somehow get rich, I'd like to open up a bookstore/wine bar.

Anonymous said...

Right on ! with exception to the stocking of video games . Sorry Kevin .

mbdcares said...

Same advice as your local fire department gives: tuck and roll

mbb

R.D. Allen said...

I think small bookstores with character will take chain stores by storm. We don't need the new books anymore, since we can get those by e-book. What we want is a place where we can walk in, lean on the counter and use the owner's first name when asking what books they'd recommend for us today.

I think *that* is the future of bookstores, and it's something that e-books can't offer -- correction: will *never* be able to offer.

Janiel Miller said...

The King's English in Salt Lake City is a wonderful indie bookstore. I drive 30 miles to get there and I buy actual books from them. BECAUSE it has a wonderful quirky atmosphere, has a curated selection (FAR better than what my local Borders offers), staff who can tell you something about nearly any book you ask about, and book signings by major authors.

TKE resides in a little refurbished house and seriously feels like you're entering Dumbledore's office when you walk in. It also butts up against a little Italian eatery so you can just pop over and grab a bite when you're done. Even the bathroom is awesome: it's tiny, but the walls are covered with framed original cartoons from a syndicated cartoonist/author.

If that isn't enough, TKE sells eBooks as well (within some limits: they can't do Kindle books right now.)

Again, I drive up there and BUY books there, even though it's that far away from me, because I matter there. Because of what they offer me.

Bet I'm not the only one who does that.

Charles said...

Depends where they are in the world. I live in the Philippines so it's not a threat really. (I elaborate on it here.)

amber polo said...

Be polite. How Not to shop in an independent bookstore:

http://amberpolo.blogspot.com/2011/03/how-not-to-shop-in-independent.html

kevin shaub said...

Liquor license

Nicole said...

Let me start off by saying that I've worked in two Barnes & Noble stores - one in a relatively small town in PA and now in one near a big city in MO. There are big differences between the two, and though I don't know how the PA one is faring right now, I can tell you that it used be on a scale of 1 to 10 (best being 10) that the PA store was an 8 and the MO store a 5.

Some of it does have to do with corporate, such as their decision to inject a Toys & Games section into the store. Otherwise, a lot of it has to do not necessarily with corporate, but with the district managers and store managers and, of course, how much money is floating around.

Good customer service is one thing - I will happily search the store shelves, back room, and even other sections for a book when it's supposed to be in the store for any customer. I'll offer suggestions if I can (and often do), and even let you know when it's a better idea (re: cheaper) to send the book to your house.

However, what some of you want is a little more. I see a lot of "Someone I can talk to about books." That's all fine and dandy, and I'd love to listen, but you have to remember: we have limited payroll to work with, so when there's only me on the floor of the entire store, I can't chat with you as much as I'd love to because there's a line forming at the customer service desk and then suddenly people aren't so friendly. Providing the sort of thing many of you point out is hard when there are so few of us (two or three at most in the entire store) there. Throw in the phones, people with needing ereader help, and online reservations to fetch, and now there are more customers for us to help.

Don't get me wrong, there's a lot of good stuff mentioned here (that the PA store did, I might add), but some of it won't work for stores like Borders and B&N. They can't specialize because the customer base is WAY too big. And if store managers/district managers don't listen to employees (many of which think along the same lines mentioned here), then there's nothing we can do.

I fully intend to email a link to this post and it's comments to B&N's main employee "We Listen" group so if anything they'll at least take a look. *shrug* You never know.

Bryce Daniels said...

Very good question.
How about changing the model from a "store" to a "club?" Not sure how the financials or legal aspects would shake out, but I think people might be willing to pay a membership fee? A yearly dues, of sorts, giving them the right to swap books, leave reviews for the other members, or attend special author signings, readings, or seminars. This could be a way to distinguish themselves from both the big-box mentality and the impersonal aspects of the e-revolution. A database could be built, allowing one to communicate with fans of the same genre, author, etc.
Every member buys one book at full retail, then can swap for x number of books during a calendar year.
Would have to add coffee,supplies, gift items to supplement the cash flow.
All of this manned by staff members who KNOW and LOVE books, as mentioned above. Customer service is king.

Backfence said...

I’m seeing a trend back toward the Indies, at least where I live. The St. Louis indie book stores recently formed an alliance to raise awareness of their stores. It it seems to be working quite well for them. What’s more, it’s actually one of our independents that sponsors some of the best author events in town. Maybe they’re on to something. Here's a link about their alliance:

http://www.stltoday.com/entertainment/books-and-literature/book-blog/article_2023fab4-3a1e-11e0-9574-00127992bc8b.html

bluerabbit said...

Affiliate with other related specialize businesses. For example, add a travel book store to a travel agency or a supply shop for travelers.

Peter said...

Bookstores offering free wi-fi are already half-way there. Offer memberships and discounts on e-books and either proprietary or generic kindle like reading devices for sale on site. The service, good word of mouth, coffee, couches, tables, sofa chairs and perhaps a few reading kiosks to rent use of a laptop or other computing device should do the rest.

Anonymous said...

Everyone seem to be missing the point that small bookstores have been going downhill long before e-books and e-readers came about. Back in the nineties, it was almost cliche to open a small bookstore with a nice nest egg, or divorce settlement, and run your own business.

But unless they were located in tourist places, few ever made it and most went out of business when the large superstores starting popping up.

I certainly wouldn't invest my money in a small bookstore right now, unless I needed a great tax write off.

bluerabbit said...

sorry, "specialized businesses"

J. T. Shea said...

Take off those top hats indoors. And why are all the books in Italian?

Oh, you don't just mean the bookstore in the picture? Then I second the comments about coffee and play areas and anything that capitalizes on the bookstore's physical presence. Virtual coffee just doesn't taste the same. Although I hear the next I-Pad may have a built-in cafetiere...

Liz, cats are okay in bookstores once you don't give them too much coffee...

I second Crotchety Old Fan re the Espresso Book Machine. Need I remind everyone such machines make a bookstore the only retail premises outside the food industry that can manufacture its product in-store?

Marilyn Peake said...

I would tell indie bookstores to jump into the bubble of 99 cent Kindle books and other such shenanigans. I’d say create the same type of space that Internet cafes did years ago. Serve lattes and yummy desserts, play awesome music, set up comfy chairs and couches for people to read books on their eReaders, run book discussion groups, make it exciting to be part of a community reading books on electronic devices. It’s a great time to grow the indie community and open brand new indie bookstores.

bluerabbit said...

re Indie authors--
Artists in many towns run co-op galleries where they share the rent and take turns manning the shop. This is something that might work for you.

Mira said...

I agree with most of the comments here - I liked Fawn Neun's list.

The only thing I would add is creating an on-line community would be very helpful.

If the bookstore is hosting events and discussion groups, they could also host events and discussion groups on-line.

Building a community and a brand on-line means people will drive to go to the store to be part of that community. In addition, if people feel loyal toward a store, they'll pay more for a book because they want to support that store.

Although it may not happen for a couple of years, I truly believe that books are about to see a Renassiance.

Ease of access, price, choice - I think people are about to discover that they love to read - there is no form of entertainment so intimate and immersive.

A place that provides community and ease of access may tap into that Renassiance.

Anonymous said...

Sell alcohol and add a smoking section (even if it's just an outdoor patio area connected to the store).

stacy said...

Hire a staff of people who love books and love to talk about books.

J. T. Shea said...

Anonymous 12:31 pm, the problem is some people consider the 'best' and 'popular' to be mutually exclusive and one person's 'good' is another's 'garbage'.

BTW, it's St. Patrick's Day here in Ireland. The entire human race has been officially Irish for the last hour and 45 minutes. Best wishes!

Marilyn Peake said...

By the way, I want to thank you, Nathan, for your very exciting recent Blog posts about eReaders and 99 cent Kindle books. After reading all these posts, I’m about to launch an indie project of my own. I’m planning to purchase some amazing artwork for book covers, publish a bunch of my novels and short stories for 99 cents on Kindle, and start a Blog. I’m hoping to have this all up and running very soon. And the excitement over all this has had an unexpected side benefit: writing on my science fiction novel has been flowing better than ever. I’m not sure how many 99 cent Kindle books I’ll sell, but the project has been great fun. Very exciting time to be a writer!

Maya said...

It's a tough biz! But here are some things that stand out to me when I enter an independent book store.

1. Staff picks in every section, with a clever, hand-written description of why the book was chosen. These sell books!

2. Get involved with local authors. Stock their books, and have them come sign. People will come to support them and buy plenty.

3. Keep up with trends and give us what we want. YA is a hot genre right now, but my neighborhood bookstore has one completely pathetic shelf of YA books (mostly from the 90s). Hello? Wake up and smell the money!

slaterfox said...

Any bookshop with a desire to survive this crippled economy must use techniques others have not to stay afloat. INVOLVE THE CHILDREN IN THE COMMUNITY and business will flourish. If there is a local college (in most towns this is the case) meet with the cheerleaders and have ONE day in the month to give the ch-lead group 10% or 15% of all sales on that day only. The cheerleaders will then create posters and advertise the store heavy among all of the students thereby getting regular customers into the store. Also have children's hour on Saturday in which a children's author (in costume) is invited to read. Parents love one on one time with their children in this fashion. Especially working parents with limited quality time with their children. Programs involving young folks always bring money not to mention the good served in the community by supporting the bookstore. The cheerleaders could also wear their uniforms on that special day and perform!!
This is exactly what I would do if I owned the bookstore. I dearly love good business!

hbise said...

Bookstores are missing the boat: They should not be marketing products (i.e. E-books, etc or even writers); they should be marketing “the experience” of being in the actual store. Walking thru the doors of Barnes & Noble is a holy experience for me and my kids—seriously. Even my 14 year-old daughter has that, “Ahhh,” out-loud-sigh when we visit B&N, for which I always smile, thinking, “She gets it; she really gets it!” A Bookstore is a special refuge for many of. And I think stores need to enhance that experience in the way they advertise, while making the actual store more, well, appealing. Think: Starbucks—in their beginning; they created at atmosphere and THEN we fell in love with the products, wanting to drink coffee multiple times a day—paying double for each cup (Heck, Starbucks didn’t even advertise back then!) So, In order for the Bookstore to survive, they need to bring back that romance for those who’ve lost it, and create more of that holy-refuge the rest of us seek…I could go on and on about this--passionately, like a real book-junkie; but this is a blog—not a marketing thesis!

Nicole said...

@Maya

YES. The staff picks thing is on of the things I feel Borders does right. Our B&N store here doesn't have ANY and it drives me nuts.

And as promised, I totally emailed B&N a link to this post. I also complained about how my store has no place for us to recommend books to people - which is a loss in potential sales I think!

Eden said...

I've been looking for a good place to write, as well as read. I might be in the minority, but I'd love to find a bookstore that does NOT have wi-fi. The internet is the biggest time-sucker for me, and it does neither my reading nor my writing any good. But it's hard to get away from it these days!

I want to find a bookstore that welcomes readers and writers alike and focuses completely on books. When I walk into a bookstore, I want to get the sense that they take the art seriously. (And reading well is no less an art than writing well.)

This might not be viable from a business standpoint. In reality, it probably isn't. But it's what I'm looking for.

Carrie said...

Have a wide selection in stock. I went to spend my B&N groupon the other day and none of the books on my Want to buy list were in. If I can get something instantly on an ereader for less money or close to the same price then I'm going to do that.

Heidi said...

You know what I never understood? Why don't the bigger bookstores like B&N, etc., have a "Local Authors" night? There are great writers all over the place, who are always trying to get their books out to the public.
Hosting a local authors event would generate a whole new brand of customer - the consumer who likes to support local business would also be interested in supporting local authors. It could also be a way for the big box stores to stay in touch with their own communities, as well as being a promotional event to just get customers into the store.
I think it's what you call a "win-win."

Michael 'Rob' Robinson said...

Hybridise. Become multi-service enhanced libraries. Most already do coffee shops. Hitch a ride on the e-book star and provide access points/e-book recommendation/critique/review service. Let’s face it; there are some pretty dire e-works out there. Publishers/agents act as a filter mechanism in the t-model (traditional)-model; someone needs to fill that same role in the e-model. Evolve or die.

Michael 'Rob' Robinson said...

I should have said, 'E-volve or die.'

Emily Wenstrom said...

If I owned a bookstore right now, I’d be desperately searching for ways to take advantage of my wi-fi hotpost to offer exclusive to readers that can only be gotten at my location – GPS marketing all the way, baby. Exclusive discounts through foursquare, for example. Exclusive sneak peaks into the books we’ve got in our big displays to entice them further to purchase. Maybe even discounted bundles when you purchase the paper copy AND the digital of the same book for peopel who want both, like you, Nathan. Offer a hot book for free in weekly doses – but you only have access to the story inside the story, so readers have to keep coming back to me (and of course, hold a talk about the book when each is finished). That kind of stuff.

Shannon Chamberlain said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shannon Chamberlain said...

Like movie theaters, make the money off concessions. (And be creative about it. Liquor laws, at least as applied to wine, are pretty liberal in places like California and most of the West Coast.) I'd rather drink coffee or adult beverages surrounded by books and book lovers than by Bay Area food and wine snobs, although I realize that there's some overlap between those two groups.

But the diversity of responses in this thread holds the real answer: diversity. Specialize. Different people want different things out of their bookstores. For every wine swilling godless lush like me, there are two teetotaling Christians who want a lame "family oriented" experience with plush ark animals and shelves full of books about women getting it on in the righteous context of holy wedded matrimony. And that's just the Twilight fans! But seriously, folks, as the Internet fragments us into pieces, we expect more of our individual experiences in real life to be similarly tailored to our very specific needs. So unless there's a national chain that's versatile enough to respond to conditions on the local level--and by their nature, they're not--you'll see a lot more local commerce. And before you anticapitalist types crawl out of the woodwork to gloat, remember that localization, too, represents the operation of capitalism.

Gigi said...

Check out the PW Shelftalker blog for what not to do. The bookseller should not be a scold.

Move with the times. Think about what people want. Your customers are readers, after all. They can download any book they want without leaving home, so why do they need you? Give them what they can't find on the couch at home -- community, curation, connection. Give them ambience. And for God's sake, give them a fair price. If you can't do that, get into a different business.

-shadowflame- said...

Boon no book is crap now days because the publishers only take on the best just because you dont personally like a book it doesnt immeadiately make it crap you know-theres a reason there are bestsellers out there.
one book that might appeal to one person may disgust another but that's cause everyone and everybook is diffrent.
if you only stock the books you like then i won't be going to your store.

my advice to bookstore owners would be:stock more books take more risks and lower the prices.
especially with kid books i get £3 pocket money and want say a book that waterstones is selling for £6 but it's on amazon for £3 or less what one do you think i'd go for?

Short Thoughts said...

I don't know what the answer is, but a lot of these suggestions are good. I would recommend that they don't try to supplement their income with paid memberships, magazine subscriptions, etc. I try to visit bookstores and buy books from them, but Books-A-Million is one place that is making it hard to buy from them.

Metropolista said...

Books & Books in Miami is an anomaly, because that city has the lowest IQ and least intellectual curiosity of any major city in the US. But they are very successful. Store layout: visually exciting, looks nothing like a library, very open plan. They don't just have a high end cafe, they also have a bar. Their author reading schedule looks like a university evening course list. They feature local authors, and bestsellers are rarely to be seen. Foreign books abound. You will always find something INTERESTING at Books & Books. I don't miss Miami, but I do miss that bookstore.

KSCollier said...

I'm Torn! Believe it or not, I love my local stores B & N and Books-a-Million. I do have to drive quite a distance when I want to peruse the shelves. I love the handson feel of looking at the covers and seeing who published it, etc., and I do buy from them most times I am there, however, I LOVE MY NOOK! I love that I can carry a library with me in one book when I travel. I love having them all at my fingertips at any given moment. So I AM TORN between the two. Amazon is so convenient to use, and they are set up in a manner that you can check out the cover and read a snippet or two about the book. So my advice to the bigger stores would be to figure out a method of using online sales like Amazon and giving them more competition in order to keep there local stores open. Offer more book signings to pull people in. Offer more deals to draw the public. You will always have your diehards, but eBooks are NUMBER 1 and you can't deny technology advancement. If you don't go with the change YOU LOSE! It's as simple as that. Jump on the bandwagon or get out of town. (SIMPLE) Hope we can keep both methods up and running. SO TORN because I love the convenience of AMAZON and the nostalgia of bookstores.

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