“Independent” might be stretching the definition of the term, given this project is being run by Penguin Random House. But still. It’s an interesting idea and similar, I suspect, to what Amazon wants to do with GoodReads.
It’s also interesting that they seem to be running it out of the UK, not the US, and I would almost guarantee that’s got something to do with Amazon and market segmentation. Same as how the company has been quietly taking over online bookstore chains in Australia and New Zealand,1 where Amazon’s presence is ubiquitous but not local (Amazon shipping to Aus is notoriously awful, for example).
If I had to take a guess, I’d say the strategy has got something to do with the failure of the big box retail bookstores, a.k.a. Borders. Physical stores are expensive to maintain, particularly in their huge mega-mall incarnations. But people still like books, and still want to buy books. So bookstores won’t die, they’ll just go smaller; indie shops, basically. Meanwhile, online retail is getting bigger and bigger.
The double-bind is this: people still like going into physical bookstores and browsing books, touching the pages, getting recommendations from staff, and so on. But they also like buying things online, like when they’re drunk at 3am and want to throw down $200 on books about dragons what no that’s never happened I’m mean I heard about it from a friend shut up.
Maintaining physical presences is impractical for online stores–sort of the entire point of Amazon is that it’s too big to fit into a shopfront–but maintaining online stores is too expensive and difficult for brick-and-mortar booksellers. So bookstores suffer the ignominy of showrooming, and consumers lose access to physical products.
Easy: get a big, fat, cashed-up corporate chain–say, oh, just for argument’s sake, Penguin Random House–to come in providing a kind of prepackaged white-label (or “grey-label”/in-partnership-with) ecommerce-plus-social-discovery service to physical retailers. PRH has the cash, expertise, and distribution chain to keep the web presence running as a software-as-a-service offering, while the locally-owned brick and mortar stores have a way of capitalising on customer brand loyalty outside of business hours.
Basically: you go showroom in the brick-and-mortar, then buy online later from their SaaS clouded webshop. Your local gets its cut either way, meaning they can pay their rents, meaning they don’t close, meaning everyone wins, especially you, The Customer.
This also opens up some fun potential avenues for both PRH and Local Indie Shop.
For Local Indie Shop, it means being able to fill every special order with Amazon-level convenience; pickup or delivery, customer’s choice. It allows better provision of ebooks to customers (obviously I’m a fan of this one). Plus, it gives a greater visibility over stock and popularity. At the moment, if I walk into a brick and mortar store looking for a book, don’t find it, and go buy it on Amazon instead, the store has no idea I wanted that book, and thus no indication they should stock it in their shopfront.
Meanwhile, on their side of the equation, PRH gets to sell more books. Which, yanno. Is kinda the business they’re in. Plus, their service scales. Why restrict their online ecommerce offering just to bookstores? Why not offer it to individuals, to blogs, to community groups, to schools?
People like recommending things, and they like making money (or, at least, having a near zero-effort potential to make money). Combine the two, and everybody wins.
That’d be how I’d do it, anyway. Which is, uh, notable not how My Independent Bookstore operates. So there’s that.
See where this one goes, I guess.
- The online presences of Angus & Robertson, the Australian arm of Borders, and New Zealand’s Whitcoulls were all recently bought up by Pearson PLC. You may recognise Pearson more for its consumer brand, Penguin, which is the 43% to Bertelsmann’s 57% of Penguin Random House.