1I want to talk today about book places. While book places come in a variety of manifestations, the two most popular are libraries and bookstores. And unfortunately, both are in decline. Last year Borders folded, closing 800 stores and removing millions of books from our communities.
2We now have less than half the number of indie stores than we did just two decades ago. Almost every day we hear about libraries cutting staff, hours, or holdings. And many libraries have chosen to remove books to make room for more computers.
3Book places are clearly under attack, as any sales manager in this room can attest. Libraries are converting their stacks into computer kiosks. Every week we read about another bookstore that’s closing, and last year, just before Christmas, Amazon paid their customers to go into stores to check prices against Amazon’s.
4The practice coined the term “showrooming” referring to shoppers who use real stores to inspect items before purchasing them online. But this got me thinking; maybe if we can’t beat them, we should join them. I also started to think about other things Bookstores and Libraries had in common, and if there were ways to combine them.
5So I started to imagine a model Book Place that was a little bit of both and that treated the book on the shelf as more than only a product. Then I tried to imagine what that might look like structurally. It would need a commitment from the community, which is why a member owned co-op might be best.
6It would also need access to a catalog the size of Amazon’s, which reminded me of this, the Espresso Book Machine. With over seven million titles in its catalog, the EBM can print and bind any one of those titles in about five minutes. To better understand how this store slash library might work, let’s consider three perspectives.
7How does the store work from the customer’s perspective, the bookseller’s, and the publisher’s. The customer walks in to what appears to be a normal bookstore, though one with a book-making machine next to the register, but the first significant difference is evident when they pull a book from the shelf
8…and they see this sticker, offering a new copy, shipped from the publisher (or printed on site, should the title be available from the EBM), or they can buy the Used Display copy. They can also borrow the book, free if they’re a member, or they can buy a DRM-free ebook edition.
9The bookseller see this, which is notable for what’s missing. This program would need to be a consignment arrangement, for a couple of reasons. Both consignment and co-ops are exempt from Robinson-Patman, and because a member-based co-op won’t really have start-up capital for inventory.
10Finally, here’s what we publishers see. Income, not just from sales of books in that box, but from five different sources. The display copy sales, new copies, POD copies, rental income, and ebooks. Now, I’m one of you, so I already know your concerns. And I can allay them all with one simple word.
11You might ask, why should I trust this new-fangled account type? How many Kindle editions did you sell last year? How do you know that? Is it because that’s how many files you sent? No, it’s because you are already trusting a bookseller, and one that is openly hostile toward you.
12The other instance where you would need to trust is the DRM-free eBook. Even in these incredibly tight times I would ask you all to go back and look at your mission statement. We should be in the lead on this. If you hate channel-lock as much as I do, don’t be afraid of trying it.
13The structure of this new kind of book place might also be a reason to go DRM-free. The people you would be selling those files to have a stake in the store. If they mis-use the files, they are hurting their own store—compromising their own investment.
14When Iask people this related question, it is always answered the exact same way: If your library sold books to support itself, and offered almost everything available, where would you buy your books? What I’m proposing is likely to engender the same kind of loyalty.
15So if the line between bookstores and libraries began to fade, and Lookstores started lending books, how might that impact revenues? Well, first you could be making money when your book was lent, and unless you’re a Canadian publisher, this would be new revenue for you.
16And yes, you did provide that lending copy on consignment, but has a library ever paid you for anything after that first sale? This one will. Every time that copy prompts a transaction. And you get to choose which books go into this particular library.
17 There’s on more reason we ought to consider this model. It could potentially end the practice of returns. Since nothing is purchased on speculation, returns may not be necessary. A book stays in a Lookstore until it sells, at which point the publisher can then choose if they want to send another.
18But perhaps my favorite feature of this model is how green it is. Few returns, if any. Books printed where the customer is. So little or no shipping. And e-books. Think of the trees and miles that could be saved. And all those smirking boxes that might be avoided.
19So, if we want to avoid this, we might want to consider this new model. Now, I realize there are some legal questions involved, and I had hoped to get the opinion of Penn State’s legal team about the idea, but apparently they’re busy with one or two other matters right now.
To summarize, neither bookstores nor libraries need to close. By combining the best of both worlds, it is possible to create an institution that both promotes book ownership, while providing access to content in what ever form that the customer slash patron, desires. Thank you.
Book Places in the Digital Age
What Does the Customer See? What Does the Bookstore See? What Does the Publisher See?