Assailed from all sides.
Sometimes it seems like retail gets hit from all sides.
I had a young fellow in yesterday who had owned a comic/game store in Boises. He'd sold out to his partner, but was thinking of giving it another try. I found myself saying, "You're young. Why would you buy into such a small industry? One whose future is in such doubt?"
Before I go any further, I want to say that both our stores, both Linda and mine, are doing extraordinarily well. My store, probably because my experience has finally kicked in at a useful level, and because I've found a mix of product that seems to work. A mix that can be adjusted with the changing times. Linda's store is doing well because of the location, because our policies worked, because -- if I do say so myself -- it's a nice store, and most of all because of Linda, who is a friendly face to all the customers.
But change is happening fast.
The American Booksellers Association has gone to the Department of Justice to make a complaint about the plans of Amazon, Target and Walmart to sell books for 8.99.
Booksellers Go to Dept. of Justice
Over Online Book Price War
he American Booksellers Association, the trade organization of independent booksellers, has asked the department of justice to investigate Amazon, Walmart, and Target, charging that the three companies are engaging in “illegal predatory pricing” of books, which it says is “damaging to the book industry and harmful to consumers.”
The booksellers’ organization is reacting to the online book price war between the three companies, in which all three companies are selling advance order hardcovers with $25 to $35 MSRPs at $8.98 to $9.00 (see “Target Joins Online Book Price War”). Since publishers have confirmed that they are not selling to these retailers at special prices, the companies are losing money on every sale, as much as $7.50 per sale on a $35 book.
“By selling each of these titles below the cost these retailers pay to the publishers, and at the same price as each other,… Amazon.com, Warlmart, and Target are devaluaing the very concept of the book,” the association argues. “Authors and publishers, and ultimately consumers, stand to lose a great deal if this practice continues and/or grows.”
The association notes that the pricing of digital editions at $9.99 by Amazon, also below the companies cost, precipitated the price war.
It also argues that for the retailers involved in the price war, books are being used as loss leaders for other merchandise, but that “the entire book industry is in danger of becoming collateral damage in this war.” The ultimate result would be the concentration of purchasing power in a handful of trade buyers, along with the ability to raise prices unchecked by competition.
I suppose they have to try, but I have my doubts this is going to be effective. Plus, it makes the independents look like a bunch of whiners trying to keep customers from saving money.
Still, a legal challenge could ultimately be more effective than an appeal to the consumer to think about the consequences. Consumers don't think about consequences. They see cheap. They want cheap. Cheap. Is. What. They. Want.
The rising cost of comics, the inability to break out of the ghetto, no matter how many big movies get made of comic properties.
Then there is Kindle, or as it looks now perhaps even more dangerous, the new NOOK, from Barnes and Nobles. There is an article in today's Slate:
The Nook of Doom
Barnes & Noble’s new e-reader could kill its business.
By Marion Maneker
Posted Thursday, October 22, 2009 - 5:18pm
Barnes & Noble (BKS) held a slick press event earlier this week to announce its new Nook digital reader. William Lynch, president of online business, was justifiably pleased as he stood cradling the cute arrival. But even though the Nook offers improvements that trounce the Kindle, it is hard not to see the device as a doomsday machine that could destroy B&N’s beleaguered business.
The focus of this story is how the Nook could ironically end up killing of the brick and mortar B & N's; but it could be argued it will have an even more devastating effect on independent bookstores.
I will presume to give my bookstore brethren a bit of advice. Don't underestimate the impact of new technology. It's coming. There isn't much you can do about it.
So what ya gonna do? You can't stop progress, right?
If I was a stagecoach stop, this is where I'd think about adding some gas pumps for these newfangled horseless carriages. I'm not sure what the equivalent of that would be nowadays, and I'm betting the changes are going to work out in favor of the big boys, just as it's nearly impossible to compete on new retail in DVD's or CD's or Video Games.
I'm betting I can keep finding the niches. (Notice how I keep using the word "betting?") I'll need to be quick and flexible and adept. Either that or stubborn, persistent and durable.
Meanwhile, I'm betting that though the brick and mortar presence in books and games and toys and so on will continue to shrink, that there will be a lucky few that will find a way to attract the browsers.
Being in a busy downtown, for instance, or situated on a busy corner. Finding ways to attract the impulse buyer, having stuff no one else has, and making the experience of shopping a social and physical pleasure.
But like I said to the kid above; if I was much younger, I'd be thinking about whether I wanted to commit my career to such a hugely uncertain future.
3 days ago