This morning, since it’s Sunday, I’m going to stir some controversy and talk about Amazon, that **!!*** !** behemoth everyone loves to hate.
Except I don’t hate Amazon. Instead, I have a great deal of respect for the company. You see, they did something radical and made themselves relevant to their buying community. In the process, they created the indie revolution and made it possible for authors to be independent. Without Amazon, I wouldn’t be selling many books.
To most bookstores, and even many authors, Amazon is a four letter word. I get it. For all the same reasons Best Buy is going under, small bookstores are having a hard time surviving when people browse them, identify what they wish to read, and then purchase said item on Amazon. It is a problem.
The thing is, businesses only survive when they stay relevant to their existing customers while attracting new ones. Whether you are a bookstore or a coffee shop, this is true. Authors, bemoaning the shuttering of so many small bookstores, are also getting creamed by them. Most won’t stock an indie author.
From my perspective, they are shooting themselves in the foot. Stuck in a model that has lost its relevance, they can’t see the forest for the trees. The truth, traditional publishers aren’t marketing most books anyway. Titles are lucky if they have a three month shelf life. Then, they die a lonely death and kill the author’s career (or slow it down considerably).
Bookstores, indie authors, and distributors should be looking at new models. I have never owned a bookstore, so I may be way off base, but what if, for example, bookstores focused on genres and stocked the best books, regardless of publishing platform. Can you imagine stores that focused on Romance? Just the decorating possibilities are endless. Those stores could host a variety of events relevant to their customers: The Victorian reading group, the gossip circle, girls night out, etc. In short, instead of trying to compete with Amazon, bookstores might consider a different model. Rather than carry all the hot, new releases, it might do better to become experts on one genre and build a platform of loyal customers who are avid fans of that kind of book. Smaller stores would have less overhead and potentially be more profitable.
By buying books directly from Indie authors, bookstores would cut out the middle man and everyone would make money. The only trick, the bookstores would have to do the work. They couldn’t rely on a distributor to tell them which books to buy and they would have to be creative with readings and events. If they were, then they would maintain and grow customers by being relevant to their community.
What keeps small business going?
Whether you are a bookstore, an author, or a coffee shop, the only things keeping your business going are excellent product, excellent customer service, and product expertise/passion. Without these ingredients, you simply cannot compete. You also have to rekindle your entrepreneurial spirit. How many businesses (big and small) have folded because they refused to innovate?
As long as bookstores refuse to carry Indies, and traditional publishers continue to foist marketing responsibilities on the author, the book industry is in gridlock. Recently, a bookstore owner made a public statement that she would never carry a book published by Amazon in her store (this includes CreateSpace). This makes no sense. It just means her anger is preventing her from taking advantage of new opportunities. Much like congress, the sides are so busy warring with each other, they’re not moving forward.
What about the digital platform?
Ebooks are a separate conundrum and we are seeing greater innovation here. Smashwords and Kobo are thinking outside the box, creating new models, and opening doors. It will be interesting to see how this model develops, especially in light of the lawsuit recently filed against Amazon by independent bookstores.
Revolution breeds chaos. It also sparks innovation. Every war breeds new giants. By servicing need, and providing the right products, the small business of today may be the Amazon of tomorrow.
As Indies (authors and bookstores), we need to be part of the solution. We can’t do that as long as we’re pointing fingers and whining about life not being fair. It isn’t. Nor is it easy. If you want to make it, in any industry, you have to be smart, tenacious, in touch, and relevant. If you’re not, you’ll fold. It’s that simple. That’s why Amazon is the giant it is.
What do you think? Do you have innovative ideas that can help the publishing industry to stabilize even as it embraces a new norm? I would love to hear them. Leave a comment and start a discussion. This one matters to all of us.