Friday, November 20, 2009

A Kiss On The Hand Might Be Quite Continental But Oprah Is a Book's Best Friend

What do you think, Flower? Could Oprah's talk show retirement and the success of electronic readers be the double whammy death knell that ends Independent Bookselling?

 It's no secret that for the past 25 years Oprah has sold tens of thousands of books. You and I both know that from personal experience. Does she sell as many as she used to? No. But. She is still a book's best friend. There is nothing on this planet like an Oprah book endorsement. Do not underestimate her retail powers. The Force is strong with this one.

There are books bought by Independents on the promises of sales reps that the author has been booked on Oprah or that there is Oprah interested. There are other media venues out there for books and they reach as many homes as she does. But. If the book buyer for a store is told that a first time author (who they might ordinarily have passed on) will be on Oprah they will buy a few cartons of that title. If the book buyer is told that the same author will be on the Today Show they will by a few copies of the title.

Digital books? I have had the use of the Sony E-Reader and Kindle and I am not impressed. I don't want to read a book that way. I love to read and I love books. Books. However, many, many other people are thrilled by those devices. Their sales and those of digital books are one of the few areas of publishing where sales are on the rise. Of course changes in technology will come and those changes will bring other format choices but digital reading is here to stay.

Neither of these events is going to help Independents or Publishers for that matter.

For the Independents the Holy Trinity of handselling, customer service and the customer being able to leave the store with thier purchase (instant gratification) have been the day to day mainstays of their survival since the Internet reared it's ugly head. Now that digital has it's foot firmly in the door there's another easy way to get books without going into a bookstore. This will definitely cost stores some sales but how many?

Can Independents come together in some cost sharing way and get digital book downloading stations in their stores and then be able to sell these books? I don't know. First of all I have no idea if the technology between the different devices is proprietary or compatible to downloads from anywhere. If that is the case then stores would not have to pick just one device to support. Second if cost is an issue who will help them pay for it? The companies who make the readers or the publishers themselves? Seemingly neither one of them need bookstores to sell their wares. It's all easy-peasy on the Internet. Unless Publishers want to grow their digital sales for backlist and midlist titles and first time authors. That's where the Independents handsell skills become necessary. These are the kinds of titles that publishers spend zero dollars supporting so who better than a bookseller to move them?

Barnes and Noble had the bucks and 'boldness' to go out and purchase an electronics company to build them their own digital book reader, the Nook. ~~~I'm calling a time out to say what a craptastic name that is. The Nook. It sounds like a bar your parents went to.~~~ Good for them. They are trying to keep the customers they already have by offering them what Amazon and Sony has been offering them for a couple years now. So a reactive decision and not a forward thinking one. They still get some points.

According to B&N press releases they are just about to sell out of all the Nooks they have for in time for Christmas gift giving. They do not say how many they had to sell in the first place. Selling 30,000 would be very different from selling 300,000. Amazon has used the same flirty ways. They also have not told us how many Kindles~~~I'm calling another time out to say that Kindle is also a stupid name. Nook wins the craptastic honors because along with being stupid it also makes you feel like Winnie the Pooh saying it.~~~they have sold. Why is that? Both of them will tell you how many copies of a book they sold at the drop of a hat. What is the mysterious strategy behind not revealing the numbers of digital readers sold?

So what do you think? I'm positive that an Oprah-less basic cable option will hurt book sales, but Independents will survive it. The digital book revolution? I believe that will come to hurt more than losing the Oprah effect. It's time once again to scramble my friends. I'll still be there exploring and shopping.

What about Publishers? Publisher's consistent inability to successfully sell what they manufacture is staggering and now that Oprah the Sales Goddess is exiting millions of homes what's a publisher to do? Time to put your thinking caps on kids. And then there's digital. OK it's sales without printing, shipping and returns but it isn't going to solve the bottom line problem--- you are not growing your consumer base.

Sorry to say,

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