We all know there’s something of a crisis in the bricks-and-mortar bookselling industry. Both independent and chain bookstores are strugging to survive as people are buying fewer books overall and more and more of those buyers are choosing to purchase from online retailers, especially the 1,000 lb. gorilla, Amazon. They’re also facing stiff competition from the big box chains like WalMart and Target, which stock a much more limited number of titles but provide nice discounts on the ones they do carry.
What are bookstores to do in this economy and environment? Well, I’ll tell you one thing they could do that would make me immensely happier and more likely to buy from them–shelve books on (if not before) their official release date! I cannot tell you how many times in the past few months I’ve gone into my nearest Borders or Barnes & Noble on the release date of a book I was craving only to discover it hadn’t been shelved yet. When I asked, I was told they hadn’t “broken down that box yet.”
Want specifics? How about this–although my Barnes & Noble had my book shelved several days early, my Borders didn’t bother putting out the one copy they apparently ordered for a full TWO WEEKS after its release date. TWO WEEKS! And I’m a local author. What’s up with that? And when I went there looking for Tessa Dare’s first book, Goddess of the Hunt, a few weeks later, it was also not shelved on its release date (although I did find it there a few days later).
I came to the conclusion that my Borders must be understaffed, but since the B&N had my book out few days earlier, when it was time for Tessa’s second book, Surrender of a Siren, to hit the shelves, I went there, sure they’d have it out. But they didn’t! They lost a significant sale from me as a result of this failure because I was going to buy the next two books in Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series, but since I couldn’t get everything I wanted and I knew I could also get the Westerfeld books at Target (which always stocks a good selection of YA), I left without buying anything. I went to Target two days later, where I scored everything I wanted for a lower price (and also purchased a bunch of need sundry items into the bargain…ah, convenience).
So, here’s the deal…if bookstores don’t get with the program and shelve by their release date (not the day after or two days after or a week after), it’s my personal belief that they will continue to lose more sales to the chains and to the online booksellers. Amazon was shipping my book, which had an official release date of May 26, 2009, as early as May 17. (If I had any notion of hitting any bestseller lists, that might have irritated me, since I know early release is bad for those “numbers,” but given that wasn’t even on my radar, it was actually nice to know they were sending it out to folks who’d preordered months before.) For Borders not to shelve it for a full two weeks after the release date is, IMO, unconscionable (and honestly, since the last attempt to find a book on its shelving date failed, I’m seriously considering never shopping there again).
What do you think? What do you think is killing brick-and-mortar booksellers? Am I onto something or are there other factors you’d like to discuss? I’d love to hear!