Investing, Publishing

The Indie Book Store Solution

This is part of a discussion I started on Linked-in. Since it is important I thought I would post a version of it here for those who don’t belong to that group or Linked-in.

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Lots of places have tried various methods of solving the Indie book store survivability problem. Most Indie book stores actually list inventory on-line with Alibris or Abe or somewhere else. I have read some claims that a large percentage of their business, especially for very old and vintage books, has come via these channels. All of these sites seem to be lacking the last little bit.

“Consignment” is a filthy-nasty word for most. When dealing with Indie book stores it is fraught with peril. Some authors who have tried it claim no two have the same terms, etc. What sparked my memory of this was some “service” emailing me years ago which was offering to let me “rent” shelf space at their stable of Indie book stores. I don’t remember if the number of stores or the genre(s)/markets they cater to were ever discussed. I just remember that it sounded like yet another way to turn authors upside down, emptying out their pockets.

I’m not the only one who thought it sounded like quickly separate an author from his/her money. I went searching for the “service” with multiple search engines and came up dry. I did stumble across the article I posted in the initial discussion and was intrigued by the street cred of the original author. I joined in to some of the discussion there and the real solution formed in my mind.

James Patterson’s feud with Amazon is the stuff of legend now. A good number of authors, myself included, will do no business what-so-ever with Amazon. What big name authors going indie and unknown indie authors do not currently have is a reliable method of getting “splash space.” The next logical step is for some site which not only allows Indie book stores to list all of their inventory for sale, but allows them to uniformly rent “just inside the door upright cover facing table space” to vendors/authors where they don’t have to compete with Amazon.

I have heard many times that table space you first view when walking into a Barnes & Noble (and probably other chains around the globe) is all rented space. The major publishers pay to have a book positioned there for some length of time. Perhaps they also do it for Indie book stores, but I have to doubt they really pursue the indies.

The site needs to be the clearing house for payments both ways and enforce a uniform consignment code.

  1. All consignment space is on one or two tables directly in front of the door so customer has to see when entering.
  2. Each book stack is topped with an upright front cover facing door copy.
  3. Standard wholesaling margins apply.
  4. Each store is allowed to specify genre and content restrictions so a children’s book store doesn’t get porn sent to it, etc.

On the author/publisher side:

  1. Each title must be from an actual print run, not POD.
  2. Author does no business with Amazon
  3. Each title has been can be verified to have been edited by professional editors, not self-edited or “friends & family” edited.

Yes, I have listened to the moans and complaints and “rationale” from self-editors and POD users, and quite honestly, it doesn’t apply. The Indie store allowing you to rent such coveted space (vs. a shelf in the back room the public doesn’t visit) is putting their reputation on the line. They need a professional product not a Wal-mart quality thing. They also need the table to be full of products which people cannot browse in-store for a while then buy on Amazon for less.

There is quite a bit of chatter in the industry about survival of Indie book stores given high costs of store rent and utilities combined with “everyone trying to sell everything on Amazon.” This type of site solves both problems. Not only do the book stores get a cash flow to cover the cost of keeping the doors open, they get unique content which will not be sold on Amazon for at least 12 months (with the stipulation scammers hawking review copies as new will always be there.)

Authors should not expect to break even or turn profit on the rental of such prime space, but it will get them more exposure than they can get otherwise. During off-peak season the price should be somewhere between $300-$600 (depending on amount of foot traffic store has). Yes, November, December, May and June would have “prime” rates because Christmas and pool season are prime times.

Before this discussion devolves into yet another conversation about the low quality of POD, just stop. Even if there were some magic pixie dust which could make a POD book of the same quality as a Web run or a sheet fed run, the one thing you cannot get around is the COST. The per-unit cost of POD is astronomical (leave the multi-colored textbook argument in the closet.) A service such as this won’t give the Indie bookstores anything which is both unique AND appealing if your paperback novel _has_ to have a list price of $24 so the store can have a 40% discount and you can still earn a few cents per copy.

The Indie book store still needs to compete on price, but now it is price within a genre not price on a title. If they can retail titles in the same price range as the ones from the major publishers, but ones which simply are not available on Amazon, they have something. If every book on that table is twice the price of every competing title on Amazon, all you have done is help pay their rent. You have not helped build their business and you won’t be selling any copies. You may not realize it, but you aren’t going to sell any copies.

I certainly don’t want to create such a site. I’m too far into my IT career to take on something like that. Hopefully Abe will see the light. Perhaps that person working on the other thing will take it up? Maybe some young IT student reading this from their college dorm will pursue the venture funding. Perhaps someone will put this notion forward at Apple since physical books not sold on Amazon do not compete with any line of Apple’s business?