Monday, April 24, 2006

Black books

Since we started this blog we have learned about two independent bookshops which have closed in April - this is obviously pretty distressing, as both seemed to be set up with a combination of experience, passion and vision. The sudden closure of love2read (www.love2read.co.uk) on April 1st was quite a shock - we had them on our list as a shop to watch for some of their inspirational and innovative marketing. But the closure of Secession Books in Bath just a few days ago is perhaps even more of a shock. There is a fitting eulogy to its closure by dovegreyreader here (and we found out this news through her excellent blog) - but when it opened less than 2 years ago, there was real expectation (in the Bookseller and further afield) about bucking the trend in independent book retailing. Their slogan was "because a book is not a tin of beans", a brave rallying cry against the wafer thin margins of modern book retailing. These two bits of news - delivered in April - have made sobering reading for Nicki and I. Aside from serving as a momento mori for the undertaking (not a great choice of word in the circumstances) we are embarked upon, it's also made us look very closely at our business model and strategy. On the Secession website (which may disappear any day now) it states "...independent bookshops are critical to maintaining diversity in the marketplace of ideas" and that the founders "encourage people to support their community by patronizing a local shop". These are two ideas we obviously get behind 100% - but fear it may not be enough to survive (and hopefully thrive) in a South Oxfordshire market town street in the 21st century. As worthy as these two goals are, a third one needs to be added - adding superior value by constantly innovating. That may sound like managerial psycho-babble (is that a word?), but it just means constantly striving to create and maintain a great little shop. And I don't think innovations needs to involve massive investment in new technology - remembering people's names and what books they like to read whilst handing them a cup of coffee. Now even Tesco's and Amazon would have difficulty with that one. At least - we hope they do!

2 comments:

  1. I've often wondered if there isn't some potential synergy between Amazon and bookshops. The big advantage of a bookshop is that you know what you're getting and you know when you're getting it - whereas with Amazon you never know what day they're sending your book ("usually within 24 hours" means nothing), whether you have to stay in specially to receive it, and what lying excuse DHL (or whoever) will give for failing to deliver.

    For books that you don't sell, there might be an argument for letting people place Amazon orders then and there, with delivery to your shop for them to collect. That way your customers will know that whatever book it is, they should come to you to buy it. If you make yourselves Amazon Associates then you can even make 5% (is it?) on every sale. Peanuts, but even peanuts are nutritious in their way.

    Naturally people collecting books would feel morally obliged to buy something from your own stock as well; and you'd be able to see what they've bought. That would be market research for you plus an opportunity to advise the customer about what else they might like.

    Don't worry too much about competing on price. VERY FEW people in the end are price-sensitive enough for Amazon to be worth the bother.

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  2. This was an interesting point - and one we did discuss. I agree that Amazon represents a fabulous market research tool. The danger I see is 'supping with the devil' - making Amazon even more attractive and risking pushing our customers even more down the Amazon route.

    I notice that gardners use AbeBooks / AdLibris to source difficult to find / out-of-print books. Somewhere in amongst all this is the chance for us to offer a service that leverages the big onlines - rather than sticking up a crucifix and throwing garlic at them every time they're mentioned...

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