Saturday, 4 October 2014

Traditional vs Online bookstores

As digital alternatives arise, physical processes seem less efficient. This theory certainly has 
consequences that extend far beyond the literary community, but these days technology is 
becoming the defining factor in how books are published, distributed, bought, lent and sold. 
And as digital publishers become more adept at leveraging these innovations, brick-and-mortar 
booksellers are nearing a point at which they could have to fight for the very survival of their 
market segment.

The traditional bookstore is doomed by e-readers and online sales of hard copy books. I use the 
word “doomed” in the same sense that online digital sales of movies and music have doomed 
movie rental stores, movie theatres, and stores that sell albums of music. Doomed does not mean 
that these stores will quickly, or ever fully, disappear, but that they have received deadly blows 
from Internet competition.

As brick-and-mortar booksellers continue to weather these blows, eBooks have emerged to solve 
several post-recession problems plaguing the industry. For starters, eBook publishing is more 
cost-effective over the long term and scales much better than print production. After the initial 
investment in requisite content conversion and creation tools, books can essentially be printed 

More and more people now purchase their books on the Internet since they find it more 
convenient. Sector representatives estimate that the online book-selling industry is expanding by 
some 30 percent per year in India in line with the ever-increasing number of Internet users, 
which currently totals around 27 million. At present 10 percent of total book purchases are 
made on the Internet, and this figure is expected to rise.

I do not expect bookstores to rapidly disappear the way the production of silent movies 
virtually ceased once talking movies were created. However, I do expect an accelerating decline 
in the number of bookstores as many close down due to bankruptcy and excessive losses. Some 
bookstores will continue to exist to cater to men and women who like to browse among physical 
copies of books, and because some owners of bookstores get great pleasure out of selling and 
being surrounded by books. Many bookstores that survive are likely to combine selling hard 
copy books with that of other products. For example, university bookstores usually also sell 
clothing that have the university logo, computers, greeting cards, snacks and coffee, and other 
goods that cater to students and faculty. Other surviving bookstores might combine selling of 
hard copy books in physical facilities with online sales of hard copy books, and online sales of 
digital books.

I think the number of retail locations selling books, whether physical or online, will increase.
Assortments will become more specific, and communities will be built around enthusiast 
categories. One trend we see in retail is the movement of categories into specific retail verticals, 
or purchasing communities. Publishers like F+W create direct-to-consumer verticals, and a new 
business model, because of expertise in a category. But don’t forget that a well planned section 
in an independent shares characteristic with a vertical.

Swatii Chandak

1 comment:

  1. Retail is a bad, bad sector to invest in now, according to Shark Tank's billionaire investor, Kevin O' Leary and his counterparts on the show. It is enveloped by e-tailing. However, that is for the American and other western markets. When we talk about India, per se, we need to understand the online B2C platform which is available mostly to urban and relatively developed areas here.

    Books do not necessarily mean the freshly produced books market, but also the second hand books, for which College Street, for example, in Kolkata is a huge retail place. Again, retail doesn't only mean bookshops - take a stroll along Park Street, you will find dozens of street vendors selling books (used and new). That belongs to the 95% of the unorganised retail sector in India, the numbers for which are often bleary.

    Talking about the consumer, books are not only bought by us as a hobby of reading or collecting books. Who all buy book? Not necessarily a book-reader! Think about libraries that have to source books in bulk. Do they buy books online in bulk? Do they prefer placing a phone order to their distributors for the books? Or do they prefer picking up books from publishers directly who promote their catalogue online? Reders who don't buy books generally might be library members too! Think about schools in villages - I haven't researched that area much, but it is important to think how do the kids get their books there? Does the school provide them with the educational books? Do they buy on their own? If so, how? What about the idea of gifting books? People walk into a gift shop and if they see a good book, appropriate as a gift or a souvenir (talk about coffee table books), they pick it up. The B2B market for books is very different from B2C, in which there is a very thin line of distinction between the final consumer of the product.

    Also, the article, though well written, is for a niche market of urban book-reader. As for online books and the Kindle platform and other variations of the written word, it is common knowledge that people will love anything free - people have to pay for music CDs but not for downloaded music (unless they want to, on iTunes or Spotify). Piracy in that form has shot up to such an extent that online book bazaars might not be the next thing or a close substitute to the physical stores.

    Besides, the article touches upon the fact that books are cross-sold with other products but she hasn't mentioned the possibility of re-branding a bookstore or a library. I know people personally who become members of the British Council, which has a library (and thus, books), only to avail the extra facilities or to be proud of their association with the BC, irrespective of them issuing books in hard copy or as a PDF. IF rebranding a bookstore includes giving the customer something extra, something different, maybe a free coffee or extra seating and chilling area or any novel ideas we can come up with or maybe inviting loyal readers to crowdsource a new book altogether, then the entire dimension of book stores and the business of books will change.

    E-tailing is the future, as an assumption masses are having these days, is nothing that cannot be challenged!


Would love to hear your views.....

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