With 200 stores closing and a loss of tens of thousands of jobs, is there a seed of hope for positive changes in the book-selling and buying markets that can keep doors open? Will the fate of bookstores be similar to what happened to record stores? Do you remember vinyl record albums in 33-1/3rd, 45 and the older 78 r.p.m.s [which stands for: revolutions per minute, for those of you born after 1980], Cassettes, 8-Tracks, Reel-to-Reel and even their predecessors?
Nathan Bransford, in his literary blog, reported this week that if we were to compare books to records, we might learn a few things about the future of bookstores. The central themes of his notions, on the few business successes the music store industry has seen, as I read them, concern: knowing your customers, their buying habits, and what they want to learn about their favorite genres, and what they might learn from you and your knowledgeable staff. These tenets sound a great deal like good customer service, and the broaden, deepen and diversify strategies that the Montana Arts Council continually emphasizes. Getting to know your audience, their preferences, and needs, is comparable to knowing who your customers are, and what books and music they are willing to pay for when money is tight, and for competing with the new online markets, and for when there are alternatives to cloth-bound and paperback books.
Bransford suggests there are three basic models of record stores that have survived, and these might be comparable to what may happen with bookstores. Type One is the kind of place that specializes in the talented musicians and composers of every decade, and makes it easy to “. . . find some gems you didn’t know you were looking for.” Type Two is the type of record store that buys used music, trades and resells large volumes of what’s still hot by targeting their customers needs and wants. Type Three offers a great deal of popular music, and in fact “sells 33% of the music sold in this country.” These are the big box stores such as Costco, Target and Wal-Mart, who bring their customers in with discounts on everything from diapers to live goldfish.
Bransford also offers the good news that “Vinyl record sales are at their highest since 1991,” and he offers his readers some interesting insights about why this is. In the years, between then and now, hundreds and even thousands of record stores have closed. It is worrisome that books seem be under siege in these tough economic times and with technology moving so fast that this middle-age woman, who has been working with books since the fifth grade, can’t keep up with the changes. With the big retailer Borders filing for bankruptcy and their attempts to re-organize under Chapter 11, is it possible that more bookstores will follow suit? What does the future of book-selling and buying and reading look like? I, for one, am not ready to give up my musty-room and narrow-aisle musings in some favorite independent bookseller haunt in Everytown, USA. Although, I have been known to peruse the mountain-high piles at the large retailer, or the cyber-shelves online, I don’t own a Kindle or any of their relatives, and though I may like to give one a try, I’m not ready for a steady diet of electronic page turning.
for more from Bransford, please see:
for more on Borders, please the February 16th, 2011 New York Times article:
for more a bit more on electronic devices, please see the EHow article:
Nathan Bransford is the author of JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE COSMIC SPACE KAPOW, a middle grade novel about three kids who blast off into space, break the universe, and have to find their way back home, which will be published by Dial Books for Young Readers in May 2011. He was a literary agent with Curtis Brown Ltd. from 2002 to 2010, but is now a publishing civilian working in the tech industry. He lives in San Francisco with his wife Alison Presley.