Move Over Barnes & Noble, Hello Amazon Brick-and-Mortar—Bringing Back the Bookstore Only Better
Man, I SO love being right. Not to brag, but those who’ve followed me any amount of time know my tract record for predictions is pretty darn impressive. Back as early as 2006 I knew social media was going to be a game changer for novelists. Until social media, fiction authors had zero ability to build a platform of fans before the book was ever finished/published, unlike non-fiction authors (which probably explained our 96% failure rate).
The only way a novelist could build a platform or brand was through already published books. This was NOT the case for the non-fiction author.
Unlike novelists, NF authors weren’t trying to spin an audience from the ether and praying the stars aligned when their books hit shelves. Non-fiction writers exhibited some control—actually quite a lot of control—in creating a platform of fans who were ready and eager for a purchase before the product came to market. Often this was done through activities like public speaking, lecturing or writing articles.
When Web 2.0 came on the scene (a product of the dot.com implosion) and user-generated content began accelerating, the future seemed very clear to me. User-generated content WAS the future. Who was best at creating content? Helloooo? WRITERS! Finally we had a small stage of our own where we could at least make a dent in that nightmare known as discoverability.
In 2008, I pitched numerous agents a book about social media for authors. I was laughed at. They told me that Facebook was a fad and that e-books would never be statistically significant. That they’d weathered the great “books on tape” scare that was supposed to render all paper books extinct and e-books would soon go away along with social media.
Hey, paper is never going away. There is always going to be a market for that, but it’s going to be utterly reinvented. The paper model can’t be sustained the way it’s going. It’s too wasteful.
Also, e-books are going to be bigger than you realize. The only reason they haven’t been a big deal so far is no one has come out with a tablet or e-reader that is affordable and user-friendly. That happens? Game over. You need to be ahead of this curve.
Who cares how people read so long as they are reading? And paying YOU?
*does Jerry Maguire face* Help ME, help YOU.
Aaaaaand then Steve Jobs came out with the iPad and the iPhone went mainstream. All phones became smartphones and life as we knew it imploded. Then the Nook and Kindle and yeah. E-books are kind of a BIG DEAL. So are audio books, btw. Ever heard of Audible? Whispersync?
A little thing called Twitter?
And that agent to this day walks the other direction when he sees me.
I’ve been blogging eight years telling writers that social media is critical. Granted, the first year people ignored me. The next year readers just called me a witch. Then, people went from pissy to borderline violent, which is odd because hey, I am just here to help.
Don’t want to do social media? Don’t. But we are no longer in a world with a Borders and a Barnes & Noble on every corner…and I mean every corner.
But this brings up what I wanted to talk about today. Anyway, I was patting myself on the back about what a GENIUS I a—-OUCH!!! CRAMP! BREATHE! Walk it off…
For the most part I have been pretty accurate in my projections. I’d love to say that it is that it is I am really smart. Or even that it has to do with that deal I made with Satan junior year, only that deal involved me being able to eat all the pizza I wanted and never get fat.
Where was I?
Thing is, markets never stay the same. They shouldn’t. Stagnation is actually bad juju.
Anyway, in my POV humans really never outgrow being toddlers. We get really, really enamored with something and then either drop it like Season 7 of Lost or we find a new homeostasis. That thing just gets integrated into our lives, because we dig it, but we are no longer all cray-cray with it.
Yes, “cray-cray” IS a legitimate business term.
See, I’m an entrepreneur and entrepreneurs love fixing broken stuff. We also hate it when businesses continue to be epically STUPID. In my book Rise of the Machines I go into more detail about all this jazz, but here is the elevator version.
The traditional paper model worked for a hundred years because there was no better way. But, when the world handed Borders and B&N a better way on a silver platter? They ignored it.
In the traditional model, agents and editors bank on previous sales to project future sales. This is why so many of your bookstores are all stocked with the same authors. Most of them big-name heavy-hitters. For the new author? This made (makes) breaking out next to impossible.
Most writers who are fortunate enough to make it into a bookstore are spine-out on a shelf and have to hope their last name lands them at eye-level because if they have no platform? Browsing Roulette is the best one can hope for. This is not the publisher being mean. Big names make the most money. Money means they actually have the means to publish new authors.
The fact that Amazon was going to dominate the e-book industry was a given. Low-hanging fruit. But, in my mind, I knew at some point it only made sense for them to at least try going brick-and-mortar. BUT, I knew this would probably only happen once the giants were dead or close to.
Now? Borders is a memory and B&N is struggling. Last I visited, they are now selling vinyl records, which is cool…albeit weird.
Amazon has always had several factors in its favor. First, it doesn’t have all the bloated overhead. It didn’t have giant 35,000 square foot stores on every corner. Then, B&N catered far more to traditional publishing. But, as we have all witnessed in recent rears, many of the breakout runaway successes did not come from traditional. Hugh Howey is a big one that comes to mind.
And even the books that DID sell a lot of copies (meaning generated revenue) that might have originally been traditionally published were backlist published by the authors themselves. Thus these profit centers (books) wouldn’t have ever been stocked by a B&N anyway because B&N generally only carried current stuff.
Amazon, conversely, was smart and saw the MAJOR advantage of compounded sales.
For instance in 2009, B&N had one new Bob Mayer NF for sale, Who Dares Wins (excellent book, btw). Hello! On Amazon now you can get everything that man has penned since the 80s, books the publishers no longer wanted but that were excellent books. Books I had to track down in secondhand stores before Amazon came along.
Bob was a New York Times and USA Today Best Selling Author and a damn fine writer, but NY publishing was only interested in one book at a time and the old stuff was old news. It’s why they handed Bob back his rights.
They weren’t going to do anything with those old books. WTH? I read ONE Area 51 book and hunted through every secondhand book store in DFW to get the series and NY had no interest in at least trying to put those in e-book?
Those suckers sold millions of copies when they were released. The stories were still awesome. They weren’t like the spinach I forgot in my vegetable crisper that grew e-coli and that would KILL you if you ingested after they were no longer available in print.
Anyway, NY didn’t want to republish them but, to Amazon? Ka-CHING! Why sell one Bob book when you can sell 50?
Back to brick-and-mortar.
Remember I said humans go through cycles. I think in the 90s we grew enamored with BIG. We loved the mega-store. Bigger was better until, frankly, it just got ridiculous. Do we really need to be able to buy a tractor at the same place we order our kid’s birthday cake?
Bookstores did the same thing. But stocking all these books (the same books) was really wasteful and this led to a major market contraction.
Okay the market snapped with more force than Kim Kardashian’s Spanx.
We snapped back the other direction. I love shopping on-line. OMG, I need a 12 Step group for my book-buying habit. But, frankly, I miss browsing a bookstore. We need bookstores!
Here Comes Amazon 😉
Because Amazon is smart. Amazon looks at where its competitors went wrong and it improves. That is the beating heart of true capitalism. Evolution. Amazon has every major component to make this work. I predicted they would do this back in 2012. Seriously, here is one of the posts.
And it was funny, because recently I was talking to my husband and wondering what was up. Amazon makes killer business decisions and deep down my gut told me I was right about them eventually opening a brick-and-mortar. I couldn’t be wrong about that. Everything about it made sense.
Then, *ANGELS SING* I saw THIS! Amazon opened its first REAL BOOKSTORE in Seattle YESTERDAY.
Amazon Has Algorithms
If they open more stores than the Seattle location, there is NO NEED to make a big store. The only reason for the megastore was because it was a scattergun effect. Stock enough titles and hope. Also stock BIG names and those probably would sell. If you had some weird outlier? An indie or self-pub that went viral? A new author who didn’t get a big enough print run? You missed it.
But Amazon knows who is selling. It has the data. It also knows not all areas have the same tastes in books. When the movie American Sniper came out, I guarantee you more copies sold in Texas. Probably more here in my town since I am right down the road from where Chris Kyle lived.
Also, Millennials love retro. Heck, most of us like retro. Retro is huge! Um, Star Wars? Sometimes an old book for reasons unknown could pop on the radar. Old Conan the Barbarian books or maybe early Ann Rice titles that suddenly lots of readers would love to have in PAPER.
What if you could strategically stock every store? Wait! Now, you can.
Amazon is Loyal to the Customer
They don’t care if we are indie, self-pub, traditional. Heck, Amazon doesn’t care if we can even write (a topic for another blog). But, if we publish a book of nothing but commas?
And people DIG THAT? Readers WANT that? Amazon will print copies of the book of nothing but commas and have plenty of them in stock to keep customers happy.
Amazon Gives Authors Advantage
In the old days, premium placement at a bookstore (or any placement for that matter) was negotiated beforehand by an agent. Now? If Amazon expands this brick-and-morter biz? They don’t care about politics. They care about profit.
We finally have a business model that is based off of merit. It rewards books that sell. Period.
Amazon IS Skynet
Amazon is omnifreakingpresent. They are everywhere and in everything and Hollywood is next on their radar. And yeah sure sure maybe their time will come if they rest on their laurels and get stupid, but for now? They are pretty hot stuff because they do smart stuff. And I hear we don’t have to take the mark of the Beast if we sign up for Amazon Prime 😀
They are bringing back a user-friendly bookstore. Small, efficient, and intimate like the B. Daltons of our youth, but customized to our tastes. We can buy paper books AND load up the Kindle. Also, I guarantee you there will eventually be kiosks in there to give us what we can’t find on shelves.
Can find it? Heck, they will ship it to us for FREE with a Prime Membership.
In my mind, this is great news for authors. I never really worried. I always knew there would be a place for the bookstore. I figured Amazon was doing exactly what it was doing (gaining a stockpile of talented authors who sold a crap-ton of titles, signing up most of the global population to Amazon Prime, gathering data and perfecting algorithms). The ridiculously large superstores? Not so much. That was just dumb business in my POV.
Yes, people love paper books. We love e-books. But the digital age has been a fascinating era of exploration. This new evolution of creating an actual bookstore is a boon for readers. They now have a browsing space where they can discover new books and physically touch them.
It also gives us writers a new goal to shoot for, because, frankly, making it onto the Amazon landing page was not in my “little girl” dreams when I envisioned my life as a successful writer.
Book signings are SUPER awkward when you break into people’s homes and it is really hard to personalize your signature when the cops are hauling you away in handcuffs.
What are your thoughts? Are you excited about the reinvention of the bookstore? Do you miss being able to walk through a small bookstore in your local mall?
I LOVE hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of NOVEMBER, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel.
I will announce OCTOBER’S WINNER later. Hubby STILL has flu and I need more time to figure out who won…because I have not slept in a freaking WEEK. Sorry. I love you.
For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook.