Thursday, July 29, 2010

Independent bookstores need a war plan and they need it now!

The news in the last 48 hours on the closing of two independent bookstores, Tree House Books (Holland, MI) and Rodney's Bookstore (Cambridge, MA) got me to realize it's time for independent bookstores to prepare a war plan.

There's nothing new in the fact that independent booksellers are struggling, and not only in the US.
The Guardian reported in February that in the U.K. independent bookshops closed at a rate of almost two every week over in 2009. In Vancouver, Canada, After 53 years in the business, independent bookstore Duthie Books closed its doors last January and in April another bookstore in the city, Sophia Books, was closed.

So why War Plan? Because it doesn't seem like this trend is going to
reverse itself any time soon. And if independent bookstores want to stop this trend, they have to act fast and they need a war plan, because this is a war and their survival is at stake.

Couple of elements that are crucial for the success of this plan:

Awareness - Independent bookstores have many loyal customers, but probably not enough. At the same time, I'm sure there are plenty of readers out there that will be happy to consider supporting them because they like these bookstores, what they represent and their contribution to the local economy and community.

Personal Benefit - To move people from condition of awareness to action you need to provide them with some sort of added value or personal benefit. This is a must. You can't just rely on the fact that people like bookstores - they won't show up in big numbers if it won't be worthwhile.

No trade-offs - Most people don't like to pay a price even it's for something they believe in. For example, a survey conducted by researchers at Stanford University found that 76 percent favored government limiting business’s emissions of greenhouse gases. At the same time, large majorities opposed taxes on electricity (78 percent) and gasoline (72 percent) to reduce consumption. So my conclusion is that if you want to drive people to do the right thing, you need to create a win-win strategy with no trade-offs. Staying only with the small minority who don't mind these trade-offs is not an option anymore. How do you integrate these elements into an effective yet realistic war plan? Well, that's the real challenge here.

Couple of weeks ago I suggested here a model
that will provide customers with both personal benefits and the feeling that they're contributing to the prosperity of their own community. This model is based on creating a collaboration with other local businesses to enable these businesses to provide customers with discounts for each other. I think that if you add to it a creative awareness campaign, this model can definitely be considered to be part of the war plan.

In any case there's a need to act fast. "Publishing is changing fast, bookselling is changing fast" said Skip Prichard, Ingram CEO last week at BookExpo America in a 'A CEO Panel: The Value of a Book'. He is certainly right and I believe there's a real urgency here - the sooner independent bookstores will prepare their war plan, the better their chances are to win this war.

You can find more resources on the future of bookstores on our website at

Raz @ Eco-Libris

Eco-Libris: Promoting sustainable reading!