Hey, bookseller: sell the book!

Hey, bookseller: sell the book!

Sell the book.

Sell the book.

Sell the book.

Look, this drives me crazy!

I’m a former brick-and-mortar bookstore manager, and every time I hear about bookstores refusing to stock a book in order to strike a blow at Amazon, it just makes me want to run into a store, point at the books on the shelves, point at the cash register, look at the poor person behind the counter who can’t make the decision anyway, shrug my shoulders in a big exaggerated cartoon way, and walk out again.

However, I’m too nice a person to do that. 😉

Physical bookstores can survive in an internet world.

They can do it by being places people prefer to shop.

People won’t prefer to shop there if you don’t have the things they want to buy.

People won’t prefer to shop there if they think you are using them as pawns in some battle they either don’t understand or understand too well to want to be a pawn.


New York Times article

has the latest example of what I consider to be self-destructive behaviour.

Timothy Ferris is a super successful author, and the upcoming book

The 4-Hour Chef: The Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life

should have been a guaranteed hardback bestseller.

Trust me, it’s the kind of book a bookstore manager wants. It expands your customer base beyond the typical serious reader, and it will make a great gift this holiday season.

Get them in the door, satisfy the minimum (you have the book at a price they’ll pay), and make the shopping experience superior to what they get on line. If they like you, they will want to support you and will be willing to spend more money than they would spend on line to do so.

Customer service oriented stores (and a bookstore better be one) like to say that they are “Making customers, not sales”…but you can’t make a customer if you can’t make a sale. You can’t make the sale if you don’t carry the book.

Sell the book.

The part that really gets me about this, as detailed in the article, is that they will sell you the book (despite what is presumably a principled stand against giving Amazon money)…but only if they make it as unpleasant as possible to buy it in the store.

For example, you can special order it.

Yes, that’s going to get people to want to shop in your store instead of on line. Tell them it will take them longer to get it than it would if they bought it with 1-click…and they’ll have to get in the car, and drive through the seasonal weather twice to get it.

You know that second time they come into the store to pick up the special order? I’ll bet they don’t tend to shop as much that second time. Picking up the book is a chore, not a pleasure. They want to get in, get in line, and get out.

That’s very different from if they had walked into your store, seen a “wishing well” of the book on the floor (those stacks of books we used to make with a hole in the middle), or walked past it on an end cap. Bam! You’ve satisfied them, and as long as they are there, they might as well browse a bit. They didn’t know if they would have to go to another store, so they haven’t allotted a specific amount of time in your store. When they come to pick up a special order, they can budget the time (“I’ll just pop in for five minutes on the way to the dry cleaners”).

Sell the book.

The stores are also selling these Amazon-published books on their own websites: yes, that will clearly encourage people to shop in your store instead of on line!

Customer: “Do you have the 24-hour Chef?”

Bookstore: “No, but you can get it from our website.”

Customer: “Why did I even come in here then?”

Bookstore: “I really have no idea…”


Oh, good: I made a smiley face. My passion is winding down.

I don’t like it when emotions drive a post: I’d prefer to look at things logically.

“I can’t afford the luxury of anger.  Anger can make me vulnerable. It can destroy my reason, and reason is the only advantage I have over them.”
–Dr. Robert Morgan (played by Vincent Price)
Last Man on Earth (1964 movie)
screenplay by William F. Leicester, Richard Matheson*

It’s just that I’m passionate about books and bookstores. I want them to survive and I think they can. There is still a special experience to browsing in a bookstore with a knowledgeable and friendly staff. Even thought that vision of it may be partly just nostalgia for me, I still think it is possible.

But not if you don’t sell books.

What do you think? Should brick-and-mortar bookstores refuse to carry books published by Amazon? If they do, should they still sell them by special order and on line? If this book doesn’t do well, will that drive other megabooks away from Amazon as a publisher? How long can bookstores maintain a policy like this before it creates a death spiral of disappointed customers not shopping there any more?  Is it Amazon’s own fault for saying they love to “mess with normal”? That doesn’t tend to make the people who depend on normal happy. Will the longer sales cycle for e-books make up for a short-term loss at boycotting bookstores? Feel free to let me and my readers know what you think by commenting on this post.

*One of hundreds of quotations in The Mind Boggles: A Unique Book of Quotations…not available in any brick-and-mortar bookstore. 😉

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

8 Responses to “Hey, bookseller: sell the book!”

  1. Karin Says:

    I personally think Brick and Mortar stores can’t afford to turn away authors or customers by trying to “stop Amazon’s business practices”. I think it is amusing that they are crying foul, when they did the same thing to the Independent booksellers, driving them out of business.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Karin!

      Yes, the parallels are clear. The dinostores had bigger selection, lower prices, and often more convenience than the local stores…the exact same way that Amazon has the advantage now.

      I don’t think they can possibly really think this changes Amazon…I think it’s an emotion-driven move, not a logical one.

  2. Margaret Says:

    Basically these stores are taking an adversarial stance against customers, or potential customers. The stores are saying either agree with our thinking or we’re going to make it difficult for you to do business with us. Any business with that attitude deserves to go out of business.

    A successful business will offer its customers what they want, not try to dictate what they should want. To refuse to carry books by a particular publisher is as much censorship as, for example, refusing to sell parents a critically acclaimed Newbery winner just because the president of the PTA thinks the book should be banned.

    Bookstores can have a presence in this new electronic world if they will quit acting like ludites and instead concentrate on what they can do better. That could include providing space for bookclubs to meet face-to-face over a nice meal and a glass of wine, and have so much more fun than discussing books online. Sell book-related merchandise that customers want to see before they buy, including covers for e-readers and reading lights. After being disappointed by the several Kindle covers I ordered from Amazon, I absolutely love the two e-reader covers that I bought at a local dress shop. I’ll be returning to buy two or three more covers at that shop, because I have four Kindles and Fire 4G on the way. What a missed opportunity for the local bookstore!

    Also, there are and always will be certain books that just work better in print. For now at least, that includes cookbooks. It’s sad enough that stores would refuse to sell any book because of their war on e-books, but how ironic that they’re refusing to sell a book that buyers who cook would much rather have in print form. They have only themselves to blame for these lost sales. I hope this stance gets a lot of publicity, and that by being included in that publicity, the book becomes a top-seller at Amazon.

  3. Brian Says:

    This might be my favorite ILMK post ever. You had me at “Ludites”.

  4. Brian Says:

    Oops. Margaret gets credit for Ludites. BC gets credit for the inspiration to post. A rarity.

  5. Did your mother say you could read that book? Says:

    […] Hey, bookseller: sell the book! […]

  6. Round up #133: “Appan”, KDP select holiday bonus « I Love My Kindle Says:

    […] stores refuse to sell books published by Amazon (at least in their stores…see my impassioned advice to bookstores, as a former bookstore manager myself). That makes it more difficult for the print side to succeed, […]

  7. Round up #216: Miracast dongle, new NOOK | I Love My Kindle Says:

    […] I wrote about a year ago, that drives me crazy! I speak as a former brick-and-mortar bookstore manager…you’re […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: