Sunday, May 15, 2011

"I'll keep looking...."

There is a long essay over on RocketBomber about Amazon versus bookstores.

The guy works for Barnes and Noble, so his perspective comes from that angle.

One of his principle complaints is the new phenomenon of dealing with customers who want a specific book, but who don't have the information they need to find it.

So the bookseller plays 20 questions, trying to figure out what book they are talking about. Only to find at the end of the process that the customer: A.) Wants it now. B.) Wants it cheap. Or C.) says, "Thank you very much. I'll buy it from Amazon."

His point being that you can't play 20 questions with Amazon. It's a big computer. Garbage in, garbage out.

He talks about how he has to grin and bear it. (His characterization of this type of customer is right on -- but he's anonymous and can say it....) :)

This problem is compounded when you sell both new and used books.

I too have noticed the ONE BOOK and ONE BOOK ONLY type of customer. The difference between me and Rocket Bomber is that I know I probably won't be able to satisfy the customer. I immediately say, "You're most likely the find that online."

Often, I'll have the ONE BOOK and ONE BOOK ONLY in the new books section, but not the used book section.

But I've figured out that the ONE BOOK and ONE BOOK ONLY customer -- who wants it now, who wants it cheap -- well, really isn't a customer. That is, if you added up all the sales to all these customers, they wouldn't amount to a hill of beans. (To clarify -- the customer who buys one book is great; it's the person who comes in only looking for one book who doesn't add up to much.)

It's like a grocery store trying to survive on a customer who only comes in for one flavor of sauce, and the leaves. If the customers don't grab a shopping cart and fill it up, most grocery stores wouldn't survive.

The real customers -- the customers who keep you alive -- read BOOKS, not BOOK.

Oh, I take the time to answer their 20 questions, mostly because I think I'm really good at it. And looking it up on Google takes but a minute (begging the question as to why the customer doesn't do it himself.)

Most often, the ONE BOOK and ONE BOOK ONLY is asking because: 1.) He's been looking everywhere and looking for years. In which case his best bet is obviously the internet. Or 2.) Someone who is looking for something he heard about on T.V. In which case, his best bet is the mass market, who probably has stacks of books and has them at discount.

So, I'm usually willing to look for the customer, BUT -- I also try to tell him the truth. Based on watching the books that come in my wife's much bigger bookstore, month after month, year after year.

"You aren't likely to find that book used, right now," I tell them. Because either it's in HUGE demand -- or because it's really pretty rare. Or both.

The thing that bothers me isn't the same thing as Rocket Bomber. The thing that bothers me, is THEY DON'T BELIEVE ME! They'll walk off, convinced I've tried to pull a fast one, certain they'll find the book at the next bookstore they go to.

Instant karma. Because, they probably won't.

For example: Atlas Shrugged.

Here's a true and accurate answer.

If you were looking 3 years ago, you would've found it in most good used bookstores.

If you begin looking in another 3 years from today, you'll find multiple copies in any used bookstore.

Right now? Probably in one out of ten used bookstores.

I have a new copy for 8.99. A used copy would probably cost you around 4.00 to 5.00. You have a one in ten chance of finding it if you leave....

90% will leave. (Which says something about Atlas Shrugged customers ...:).

No, really. You'll probably have to spend another hour looking for the book -- even if you're successful!

Do the math, people!

Or, a customer comes in and asks for Hornblower books. Now -- I haven't seen a used Hornblower book in years -- the old paperbacks and old hardcovers are long, long out of print.

BUT -- they do have nice new tradepaperbacks, which I have taken the time to buy and stock. Over a dozen Hornblower books, including the first four or five. And they cost all of 12.00 each.

"Oh, I'll keep looking...."

Yes. Yes, you will.

I have a long list of authors and titles that are rare in the used book market; but readily available in the new book market. But people who would be insulted if I offered them a job at 9.00 an hour, will spend hours looking for authors and titles which are difficult to find used, but readily available new.

I've decided there is a fundamental disconnect between people's perception of books availability -- and the sheer number of books.

If I were to just order the Highly Recommended book on the site Shelf Awareness -- my store would be bursting at the seams in a very short time.

And the ONE BOOK and ONE BOOK ONLY people seem to have the least knowledge of books, and are therefore surprised and insulted they don't have the ONE BOOK! and what's wrong with you anyway?

I always used the Unicorn example I sell Unicorns online -- but not in my store. Because, you know, if you are in my store, you can demand to see the Unicorn. But online -- well, I guess you just have to take my word for it.

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