Last week, we talked about how The Big Six is Dead. So what now? The future seems uncertain for many in the industry. Those who insist on clinging to outdated ways are bound to fall into anachronism. As I like to say, either we are architects of change or artifacts of change.
The only real hope of survival for New York publishing is the bookstore. If there is any hope to breathe life back into big publishing, it will rest with the bookstore. (The Big 6 will never rule like they used to, but they need not go extinct, either.)
Yet, indies have struggled competing against the mega-store B&N. Barnes & Noble has had its own share of woes. Lots of massive stores=too much overhead to be competitive. The 90s were all about excess. Giant stores, giant discounts. In this new world? Giant problem.
What is the answer?
In the future? To quote Seth Godin, “Small is the new big.” Let me explain…
Yes, But Mine Already Has Sparkles
Technology is quickly reaching an asymptote. What is an asymptote? It is a really fancy word you can throw in randomly to impress your friends. Impressed you, didn’t it? Oh, you wanted the definition! Okay, from Wikipedia:
WTH? you might be asking. Give me a moment.
Basically, fifteen years ago when cell phones were the size of your head, could only call local numbers, but each phone call cost $30 if one exceeded three and a half minutes, let’s just say that the cell phone had A LOT of room for improvement.
Only a handful of wealthy techies used the cell phone. They were for executives and they were barely useful.
Over the past two decades, cell phones have become smaller, thinner, prettier. Phones that once could only make calls evolved. By the mid-2000s, cell phones could take pictures and store music, but we still needed a small business loan to pay our phone bill. But then cell phones and cell phone service got leaner, meaner, faster, cheaper, better…and even came with sparkles.
Can’t beat sparkles with a stick.
What are you going to offer me? MORE sparkles. Nah. I’m good.
What About These Days?
Nowadays, cell phones are affordable for everyone. They are no longer a luxury item among the wealthy or the technophiles. Cell phones are as integrated into our lives as indoor plumbing.
And, they aren’t going to change like they used to.
Don’t get me wrong, I know we have many more advances in technology to come, but when it comes to the stuff us regular people are using? Technology is approaching an asymptote, meaning that sure it can improve, but with each improvement moving incrementally smaller toward an infinite curve.
It means the changes now aren’t as impressive and don’t move the market the way they used to.
Think of your iPod. When the first mobile music players could only hold TWENTY songs, it was worth running out and paying a small fortune for the one that held FIFTY songs, or A HUNDRED, or even FIVE HUNDRED. But are we going to drop everything to upgrade the iPod that holds a thousand songs for one that can hold five thousand?
Nah. We’re good. Thanks for asking.
This is what the publishing industry is failing to understand. Not only are they stuck in the paper paradigm, but they aren’t—in my humble opinion—fairly appreciating the technology paradigm. The e-reader can only get so good. I had a first generation Nook and I use it to read far more than my new iPad.
Why does this affect big publishing? The technology doesn’t really matter after a certain point. CONTENT DOES. This is why NY should have done everything humanly possible to control as much content as they could. If they would have considered my WANA plan that I offered them a year and a half ago, they might have dominated all of paper AND digital.
Oh well. I tried.
The funny thing is that New York is still courting the ever-elusive “book lover” instead of realizing that technology is creating more book lovers than ever before in human history and whomever is poised to keep the public satiated is going to cash out BIG.
Also, the “book-lovers” that NY really should be going after, rarely venture into libraries or bookstores, they are a new breed with different habits. But, we’ll get back to that in a second.
The Birth of the Digital Age Reader
See, NY believed that the e-book would be like the audio-book, but here is the problem. They failed to appreciate the Diffusion of Innovations Curve. Why am I bringing this up? Well, it explains where we will find the Digital Age Reader.
Man, I am totally geeking you guys out!
Basically when any new technology comes along, it progresses along a fairly predictable curve. The Innovators—those people like me who bought the very first digital camera even though we had to promise a kidney to pay for it—are the first.
We are the geeks and we are the ones who buy all kinds of gadgets FIRST. Then there are the Early Adopters–the friends of the geeks who will either wait for a sale or wait for a cheaper Gen 2. Then there is the Early Majority, the Late Majority and the Laggards (folks who just NOW got a cell phone or joined Facebook).
So Why Didn’t E-Books Go the Way of Audio Books?
It had to do with the nature of the product and the problem it solved. It was a niche product and always would be. Generally speaking, people don’t have time to sit and listen to each other for ten seconds let alone listen to a book for ten hours.
People who travel long distances. Okay, well there is a small population of dedicated buyers—ME back when I was in sales and drove 1800 miles a week. Okay, well beyond the traveling salesman? The person traveling on vacation. Well, that’s 1-3 books a year. How often do you get a vacation?
Let’s be honest. It’s hard to go from listening to an e-book back to real life back to listening to a book (picture waiting in a doctor’s office). With an e-book? Smooooooth. A page here a page there. Book after book after book.
Yes, we are an increasingly ADD culture, but we are never so ADD that we can transition seamlessly from an audio book to real life and back again.
Not that talented.
Additionally, audiobooks are more cost prohibitive to make. We need to find someone who has a good voice and good sound equipment to read out book onto a file. E-books? Easy squeezy and getting easier and cheaper by the day.
Reading aloud for recording purposes? Probably the same level of hard regardless of technology.
So, as we see, the signs that audio would remain niche are clear. E-books? They are everywhere. Over the weekend I read two books from three devices. I read from my Nook while we drove so long as it was light, then my iPhone once I ran out of light, then my iPad when I ran out of juice for the iPhone.
Yes, I have a lot of gadgets.
The Big Leap
What publishing didn’t account for was that the e-reader would make the jump from the Innovators and Early Adopters to the fat part of the bell curve. Now my husband who would have never defined himself as a “reader” chews through a book a week on his Evo (or my iPad. ONE DAY I will get to use my own iPad for more than FIVE minutes! :P)
My prediction is that the e-reader will burn through the fat part of the bell curve in the next three years, five tops. Paper is just a bad investment in a world of $5 gas prices. Also, paper is a bad bet in a world that is about to have INSATIABLE demand for content.
Readers want to finish a book and buy another one INSTANTLY and AFFORDABLY. We don’t want to have to make a run to a store to buy a book. We want to hit a button and have it delivered in seconds from outer space.
By failing to appreciate the progress along the curve, NY is hunting for readers in the wrong spot. Keep hunting this way and they will starve and die.
Small is the New Big–Targeting the Digital Age Reader
What cracks me up about New York is not only are they clinging to paper, but, from what I can see, they aren’t even properly understanding the Reader of the Digital Age. They are still “hunting” for readers the exact same way they always have. They are hunting for Old Paradigm Readers at the expense of the far more numerous Digital Age Readers.
Old Paradigm Readers, those who say, “You have my hardback when you pry it from my cold, dead hands” are good to have, but they are only a very small percentage of the population. They are not the readers who will bring publishing into a new Digital Renaissance.
That is the job of the Digital Age Reader.
Instead of Random House cutting loose salespeople with no commission to create “community support” with libraries (that are experiencing more cuts than ever) and indie bookstores (that are struggling in their own right), I might come up with a solution that benefits everyone.
I really dig win-win solutions.
Technology is approaching our fancy word of the day—an asymptote—so that is no longer a viable direction. So if we can’t focus on the technology, then do it the WANA way and focus on people. Think of their lives and their buying habits. Stop trying to make people come to YOU, and go TO THEM, instead.
Think Small to Think BIG
If it were me, and I were an independent bookstore, I would target Target. Target has this new campaign The Shops We Couldn’t Help But Fall In Love With where they bring small stores from other parts of the country to a national store.
The little guy gets help from the big guy. Little guy is happy because he gets to tap into new shoppers in other regions on an unprecedented scale. Shoppers are happy because we are tired of the Age of the Mega Store. We dig little guys.
Instead of trying to compete with Barnes & Noble mega stores, small is the new big.
Target is rumored to be partnering with Apple to sell iPads. What if you could walk out of Target with that iPad full of books promised to keep you up late at night reading? Heck Target stores already have Starbucks, why not add in a small bookstore?
Just situate a bookstore kiosk with touch-screen technology next to the Starbucks, but conveniently close to the display of e-readers. Purchase an e-book at Target and they will give you a gift card to download 5 FREE! titles at their bookstore kiosk.
Now Target doesn’t have to worry about show-rooming (people testing a device at Target but then buying it at home on-line and cheaper) because Target has now offered a value-added. Oh, and Random House can put those salespeople to good use selling the titles that should be featured in the Target special.
Book-sellers still get to do what they love–recommend AWESOME books—without the stuff they don’t love—tearing off the front covers of unsold paper books they are sending to an industrial shredder.
Additionally, book-sellers can now cut down on expensive overhead by partnering with a Target, Wal Mart, Costco, or Kroger Grocery Store (kind of like how Starbucks has a sized-down version for the grocery store near you).
Now, people who buy e-readers will be ten feet away from those most qualified to help them set up their e-reader and then fill the new device all their geeky friends finally talked them into. Booksellers get to sell books they love, writers sell more books and publishers solve the discoverability problem all of us are facing now that “everyone can be published.”
Wake Up! B&N!
Barnes and Noble needs to dump all those giant stores and create small airport-sized stores that will fit nicely inside a Best Buy. Still offer some paper titles, but now cater more to the digital market.
When a grandmother buys a Nook for her granddaughter who is graduating high school, she can stop by the B&N kiosk and have a bookseller help set up the new reader and load up the gift with books guaranteed to make an 18 year-old go SQUEEEEEE!!!!!
Barnes & Noble currently lets Nook owners read anything they want for FREE! for one hour if one is inside the store. Keep doing that at the small version!
With a small kiosk at a Target, think of my husband who really doesn’t want to hang out with me while I rail against the gods as I try on bathing suits. He could bring his e-reader to the Target Starbucks, find a comfy chair, and read something the B&N bookseller recommends. Then, he is likely to BUY it because it’s an impulse thing. Placing bookstores in this way would maximize the impulse buy.
The Digital Age Reader is a different creature. She barely has time to wear makeup, so she LOVES convenience. She LIKES being able to pick up fine wine at her grocery store. It saves gas, and this is really important in a time when it costs a house payment per month to keep gas in the cars.
Trust me, the Digital Age Reader loves it when she can save time and gas. She wants to shop for groceries, but she’d like to load up her e-reader too. In fact she probably already does. She is probably using the paper aisles at the grocery story to “showroom” what she’s going to download on her iPad. I say put those aisles filled with paperbacks to better use and make them a micro-bookstore.
If bookstores retooled in this fashion, everyone wins. The big store keeps people in there shopping longer. It can earn a share of the profits and also not have the hassle of restocking shelves of paper books.
Bookstores have less waste and much more flexibility. They can offer far more titles at Target, Costco, and Best Buy because they aren’t handcuffed by the paper paradigm. Writers win because more titles can be seen at these stores, which solves discoverability. Agents win because they can negotiate more titles into key retail spaces.
Also, get the bookstore, Starbucks and store working together in the WANA way, cross-promoting. Buy so many books at the Target B&N and you get a coupon for $10 off a purchase from Target. Buy your groceries at Target, and earn points you can cash in for FREE! ebooks at their B&N kiosk. Buy certain key titles and get a Free! frappucino.
Work together! We Are Not Alone!
The WANA way saves time, enhances the shopping experience and everybody wins. We buy more books and save more time to….read MORE BOOKS! Publishing doesn’t have to die. Neither does the bookstore. They only die when they fail to be creative…or to listen to others who can help them be creative. In the WANA World, everyone wins.
I love the future.
So what are your thoughts? Would you be more likely to shop at a Target store that had an indie book kiosk? An Amazon kiosk? Maybe a mini-B&N?
I LOVE hearing from you!
And to prove it and show my love, for the month of May, 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. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.
I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of May I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!
Winner of last week 5 page critique–CJ Carver. Please send your 1250 word Word document to author kristen dot lamb at g mail dot com.
***IMPORTANT MESSAGE–For those who have not gotten back pages. My web site fiasco has been responsible for eating a lot of e-mails. Additionally I get about 400 e-mails a day and the spam folder has a healthy appetite too. It is hard to tell since some people never claim their prize, but I could have very well just not seen your entry. Feel free to e-mail it again and just put CONTEST WINNER in the header so I can spot you easily. (especially if your message is kidnapped by the spam filter).
I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books.