How to stop our bookshops dying

Yesterday I visited the City with my kids. We wandered through a couple of bookshops looking for books they hadn’t read. In the space of 30 minutes six or seven books caught their eyes. I pulled out my iPhone and photographed the covers. Then we left. Later, at home, I popped onto and bought the books for significantly less than I would have paid if I’d purchased them in the bookshop and, equally importantly, they came as eBooks.

This is what is going to kill our local bookshops. The browsing experience cannot be beaten at the moment. I had done a lot of looking around Amazon for new books and hadn’t found any of the ones we ended up buying. A few minutes with shelves to browse made all the difference. But, and here’s the crux of the problem, Dymocks did not get any of my money.

I feel guilty though, because I recognise that this is not a sustainable model. The bookshop is only fulfilling one of my needs – the need to browse. They are not fulfilling the other core needs I have for (a) reasonably priced books and (b) eBook versions. So they are not getting my money: And there sounds the death-knell of hardcopy bookshops unless something changes. Lest anyone thinks I’m over-reacting and starts in on the ‘books will never go away line’, I would refer you to Fairfax and the other major newspapers ten years ago. They owned the rivers of gold that were advertising and managed to completely lose them through a misguided attempt to protect their hardcopy which they believed would never go away.

Anyway, so it was with great interest that I read of a new initiative by UK-publisher Angry Robot Books. To support the UK’s Independent Bookseller’s Week, they have started up something called ‘Clonefiles’. From today, you can go into a bookshop and buy one of their books in hardcopy, you will then be emailed the DRM-free eBook version as an inclusive part of the sale…

allowing them to read the novel on paper, on their Kindle, or on their ePub-based eBook reader. This Clonefile means that customers at Mostly Books can buy Angry Robot’s books and enjoy them in whatever format they prefer, whether physical or electronic!

This is an absolutely brilliant initiative. It plays to everyone’s strengths and meets the buyers needs at every level. It doesn’t directly deal with the price differential with Amazon but perhaps it does put the price argument into a different context. Rather that simply comparing the price of a product in your hand, the context moves to frame the price in terms of product and service. There is a value proposition in being able to go into a bookshop, experience the ambience, browse, talk to knowledgeable staff. These things are worth some premium if you also end up with the book and the eBook.

My only real concern is that you have to buy the hardcopy and kill a tree. That’s fine if you are one of those who deeply love your paper. I’m happy to read an eBook and would prefer to be able to just buy the eBook from the bookshop. If I could have done that yesterday I would have walked out with the perfect guilt-free experience – and the bookshop would have made some money.

It will be fascinating to see if this initiative works for Angry Robot Books and for the bookshops. I hope it does and I dearly hope we’ll see something similar here in Australia soon.

5 thoughts on “How to stop our bookshops dying

  • July 5, 2012 at 11:14 am

    I love you blog Nav, it’s a great way to start my day!

  • July 19, 2012 at 12:11 am

    Another alternative is that you browse in a shop, and and they show you where to buy it online, and take a cut. Not sure if that would afford the knowledgeable staff though, may have to give that up, or accept some form of additional fee. Perhaps a membership.

    • July 19, 2012 at 7:25 am

      A membership might be a way to go – it would help with loyalty to the shop. There’s a fundamental shift required in the business model.

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