Hey, publishers and booksellers. Let me help you solve all your problems, ’kay? Behold the perfect bookstore:
The problems? You know exactly what they are and obviously you aren’t interested in solving them.
You booksellers have been rolling around on the back of the consignment system like it’s catnip for too long—and it’s still going to bite you in the butt.
You publishers are doing everything you can to stymie ebooks and are determined to cling to your outmoded ways. You can lay off people all you want, but you’re not actually willing to do what it takes. Never fear, though! The economy will help you with that.
Now, in a quaint little town that is a suburb of Kansas City, they have a town square surrounding the 19th-century county courthouse. In one of those slender 19th-century 2-story buildings, there is a mom’n’pop bookstore that has been there for, oh, EVER. The top floor was always for used books, the bottom floor stocked to bursting with books. Then they put in a coffee shop. Last week, we found out they were phasing out the books altogether. Now, I ask you. What is a bookstore without books? It’s not. It’s a coffee shop.
I’ve been thinking about these issues for a long time and shaking my head sadly, wondering how long it’ll take before the consignment system collapses.
Say the above drawing is the bottom floor of the aforementioned 2-story 19th-century storefront on the town square. The 2nd floor could house a coffee shop or used books or books that you wanted to order to keep in stock (and you paid for them up front on a wholesale basis) because you’re a bookseller and you love books and books are a perfectly reasonable thing to have in a bookstore.
But do you see what is going on? A way to be inventory-free, using the just-in-time inventory system that half the rest of the retail industry in the world has been using for going on 15 years now.
You, Random Reader, are a book lover. You want a book you can hold in your hands. You go to Quaint Bookstore and they do not have what you want in their meager stock. NO PROBLEM! You sit down at one of the book stations. You browse the computer catalog (probably Ingram or Baker & Taylor). You pick your book. You punch in your credit card number (tied to the store’s point-of-sale system). The order goes directly to one of the Espresso machines behind you. You wait 10 or 15 minutes (by which time you’ve probably already ordered another 3 books), and out pops your book. You are GOOD TO GO.
Or hey! Maybe you don’t want to wait the 10 to 15 minutes, so you tap into your Quaint Bookstore account from home or work or school and order the book that way. You can pick up your Espresso when you pick up your espresso on the way to or from work or school.
And say you want an e-reading device, but you don’t want to get burned. You go to Quaint Bookstore and you pick up one of their demo devices loaded up with ebooks. You sit go upstairs to get an espresso (heh) and read for a while to see if you like it. If not, go back, pick up another one, and make sure you like what you’re getting. Then you buy it and boom, healthy profit for Quaint Bookstore on an e-reading device (which will probably get the customer back to buy at least 1 print book for every 10 ebooks they read—okay, I made up that number, but still!).
Honestly, I do not know why this has to be difficult. The technology’s there, waiting—no, begging—to be used. The consumers are there and will grow as the economy cycles back up again. With one Espresso machine, Quaint Mom’n’Pop Bookstore could get rid of its book stock, but still be a bookstore.
Did I mention there is a small liberal arts college in this town, too? Can you say “bypass the college bookstore for your textbooks”? Ka-ching.
But you know, I’m not even sure this particular Quaint Mom’n’Pop Bookstore ever heard of an Espresso and probably are afraid of ebooks, and are unwilling to look past the death of the consignment system. (I should probably ask them those questions before I assume things, eh?)
I tell you, the time is (almost) right for a new breed of independent bookseller.