Warning: This post is the product of a crazy idea I had after reading various articles highlighting the industry buzz surrounding Amazon, B&N, and the future of the printed book.
Warning #2: While I may be a writer, I am not a publishing industry expert, so have no idea whether my idea is even possible. Most likely it breaks a million and one rules related to how publishing is/should be done. But really, if we are truly faced with the collapse of the publishing industry as we currently know it, maybe we need to break a few rules.
Okay, so here’s my idea:
The ‘Big Six’ (and any other publishers who want to survive Amazon’s attempts to control publishing) should buy shelf space in teen-oriented retail outlets. By these, I’m thinking of stores like Claire’s, the GAP, West49, assorted shoe stores, hair places, heck even Build A Bear and Starbucks aren’t unreasonable.
Think of it this way… most teens these days have disposable incomes. They don’t have mortgages, food bills, and other expenses, so they spend their money on things they enjoy; things like clothes and accessories and fancy caffeinated beverages. Teens, in general (and yes I’m generalizing, not every teen will fit the picture I paint, but enough will to make the picture valid), also tend to be impulse shoppers.
Perhaps it’s the instant gratification we’re all used to, but as a society, if we see something we like, we tend to want to buy it NOW and many teens are no exception to this.
If teen-oriented retailers devoted even a small portion of their space to YA books, I’m pretty sure print books would survive, and heck, maybe even swing upwards. Why? Because of the ‘browse effect’ publishers are currently buzzing about (as their reason for keeping brick and mortar bookstores alive).
Let’s a say group of teens walks into a store intent on purchasing some non-book items. Some friends shop faster than others, so what would be more tempting than a display of books (all with those totally awesome covers publishers are putting out for the YA market)? Even if the browsing teen doesn’t buy, the books, their titles, and possibly the author’s names have been seen. (And let’s face it, if the browser picks up a book and it sounds good, they could very well add it to their purchase.)
Now, the same group of teens hits up another store in the same mall. Guess what? There’s a book display there too. Instead of books being in, you know, a single bookstore (if the mall is lucky enough to have one), now they’re in multiple locations. This amplifies the ‘browsing effect’ because while the browser may have hemmed and hawwed about picking up the title in the first store, if they see it again and again and again (without having to search it out), they are far more likely to actually buy it.
With so many outlets in one central location, publishers could look at expanding the titles they give shelf space to. They wouldn’t need to put 5,000 copies of the latest anything out because they’ll have copies in a bunch of different locations. They could look at helping debut authors establish their books by placing them with the big sellers. It wouldn’t be the bookstores deciding which books got ‘face time’, but the publishers.
Think about it: the publishers would have control. They wouldn’t have to provide thousands of copies of the bestsellers that bookstores need to stay in business (although it makes sense to stock quite a few of them because, you know, people will want to buy them). They could also place 1 or 2 copies of debut books, quiet books, books their editors loved and just had to see born even though they knew they’d never be a blockbuster.
By placing YA books in teen-oriented retail stores, publishers could actually widen the scope of the works they publish because the ‘browse effect’ will be magnified. Who knows? Maybe they could do some market research and figure out which genres sell better in which stores…
And to those of you who lament the dearth of teenage boys who read YA? What do you think might happen if there were a display of totally awesome “boy books” in stores teenage boys like to frequent? Boys browse too. Boys buy on impulse. Boys won’t blink paying $10 for a book when they’re paying $200 for shoes.
Remember that bit about our society liking instant gratification? Which is more instant, walking out of a store with a book in hand, or going home and trying to search it out online? If physical books are everywhere, they become the instant fix we all crave. (And if publishers were really savvy, they’d have cards/coupons/signage telling consumers how & where to get the e-version if they so choose. Maybe a $1.00 off coupon with a special code that could only be used on a publisher’s site?)
I know this is overly simplistic, and I know there are probably a million things preventing this idea from ever becoming a reality. But, bear with me through one last imagining.
With this idea, people would see books everywhere. There’s a message in that. Books are important. Books matter. We as a society value the printed word, and most importantly, we value great storytelling.
The publishing industry doesn’t have to go the way of the dodo because of massive online retailers. They need to take some lessons from the success of those giants (namely getting their products in front of consumers in such a way that the consumers don’t have to go out of their way to find them), and they need to capitalize on the ‘traditions’ of current sales methods (browsing).
I don’t know where publishing is headed. I do know Amazon has the clout and the money to restructure the industry the way it wants. In order to survive, publishers need to go where Amazon hasn’t gone – yet. Now that Amazon is setting itself up as a publisher, if the ‘Big Six’ don’t grab these non-traditional retail spaces, you can be guaranteed the mighty online retailer will.
Phew. I’ve said my $0.02 (okay, maybe more than $0.02, but it’s my blog so I can). If you want to tell me all the reasons why this can’t/won’t work, I’m totally willing to listen. If my idea is a piece of crap born of naivety and general stupidness, I’d like to know because as a writer, we’re all in this together. Who knows, maybe my idea won’t work, but it just might inspire someone else who will come up with an idea that does.
PS: Can you imagine a world where books are everywhere? ZOMG, I’d never leave the mall. I’d go from store to store to store checking out the various selections.
PPS: I think the publishers need to work collaboratively on this. None of the “this publisher has their books in this store” exclusivity crap (isn’t that one of the beefs with Amazon right now anyway?). If publishing wants to survive, it needs to work as a team.
PPPS: Authors, imagine the book signings! You could do a book tour in your local mall! Think of the possibilities of having more than one author in the mall at the same time – they could rotate from store to store signing stock and meeting fans – it’d be like making six appearances for the price of one!
PPPPS: I don’t know if this would work for other genres (romance does well in Walmarts), but I think the various YA imprints could totally benefit from getting into teens’ faces with their products…