Ken Auletta writes in this week’s New Yorker about the complex world of eBooks, the iPad, and the relationship among authors, computer vendors, and book publishers.
He got me thinking of a radical plan to save my favorite bookstores around the world. To cut to the chase, here it is:
• Sell at these three digital book readers, such as iPad, Kindle, and Sony.
• Sell various add-ons to these readers, including covers, lights, skins, car power adapters and other stuff.
• Pre-load these devices with eBook “staff picks” and have the staff member show off their picks at various times of the week.
• Beef up store Web sites to sell this gear online as well.
I know, it is probably unworkable, but a bold plan. Indy booksellers are my trusted advisors to acquire new titles. I confess that I have gone into these stores looking for new books to read, and sometimes walked out having bought them on my iPhone at Amazon’s Kindle store. Shame on me! But if they adopt the Strom plan, they will bring me back in, and not just for the lattes that they don’t have.
Out of my five favorite booksellers’ (Dolphin Books in my former home town of Port Washington, NY, Left Bank Books here in St. Louis, Powell’s in Portland, Elliott Bay in Seattle, and City Lights in San Francisco), only Powell’s sells eBooks on their Web site. Dolphin doesn’t even have a Web site. None sell the hardware eReaders or any accessories. Admittedly, this isn’t a very scientific sample.
Yes, Barnes and Noble sells their Nook eReader, and Borders has the Sony eReader in their stores. They also sell overpriced coffees and baked goods too. Both chains have some in-store gimmicks to get you interested in buying some etitles, but they are about as impersonal as the rest of their miles of aisles. I want to go up to that multi-pierced bespectacled androgynous 20-something sales clerk that has plenty of ‘tude to tell me what I should be reading next. I want to hold the hardware in my hot little hands and get the contact rush that I have visiting that technologic temple, the Apple Store. I want to develop a relationship with my store, not just shop there for stuff. And I want them to start making some money so they will still be around in a few years, unlike record stores and encyclopedia salesmen and daily newspapers.
All five of my stores have sections in their stores where they display the titles that the staff recommends and typically a 3.x5 index card with a handwritten description of why this book made the cut. Let’s get better than that and use digital marketing techniques. Pre-load the eBooks themselves on the eReaders and let me take them home right then and there.
Sure, I know this is a pain. You need someone who is a refugee from the Apple Store, who has some software smarts, who can do the customer service kinda thing. And the wholesale margins on the hardware are slim. And you have to carry and stock and deal with returns on something that costs more than $35. But would you pay a small markup to get the units with, say, ten titles already to go? But think of the in-store debates about which device is going to be better for your situation. Yes, you can go into Best Buy and look at several different units, but do you really trust their salesperson to sell you anything other than a TV? (And that might be a stretch too, come to think of it.)
It is ironic that the three biggest vendors in the eBook space (Google, Amazon and Apple) are all organizations that are difficult to nearly impenetrable for authors and the general public, late night personal emails from Steve Jobs notwithstanding. It is time for some brave eBook VAR to package my plan for the indy booksellers and dominate this market niche.
(In interests of full disclosure, I have written three books, two published. None have made back their advances. Were I to write another book, I would do it as a self-published eBook first.)