In talking to our distributor’s buyer for BN, I learned that more books are sold through Amazon than from BN. It may seem like a no-brainer, but I found that interesting because most of our sales still come from bookstores. I’m not surprised at this revelation – only that we haven’t experienced it. Yet. I’m sure that day is coming very soon, and here’s why…
Barnes and Noble is a national account, meaning that all book buying is done at the corporate level by genre buyers. So let’s say the health buyer is having a bad hair day and, for whatever reason, decides she doesn’t love your book, even though the author’s promotion plan includes a national tour, big name celebrities who have blurbed the book, blah, blah, blah. They can say “No thanks,” and don’t even need to give a reason. There is no logic involved, and no amount of pleading or arguing will change their minds.
So a book that a publisher has spent tens of thousands could be shut out of the largest book chain in the US, all based on the opinion of one person. All the stars could be in alignment and a perfect author platform, and nothing – for no reason at all. I watched this happen very recently to an author whose first book sold hundreds of thousands, yet his second book was shut out. The distributor’s sales rep literally fought and begged for the BN buyer to change her mind. Nada. Zip.
To put it more succinctly, ONE PERSON holds the magic keys to the Shelf Kingdom at BN. And some corporate genre buyers are real jackwagons – to the point where I would think twice before accepting a book in a particular category. And it’s not just that genre buyer, but others as well.
The frustrating thing is that bookstores are excellent advertising opportunities, and it takes the jam out of my jelly doughnut to know that the investment in developing a book may struggle on the whims of a pouty genre buyer. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, as the saying goes…and I believe it.
Ironically enough, this is the very corporation that’s crying big croc tears for consumers to please support them and save them from the big bad Amazon. From where I sit, I have to ask the age old question that all publishers are currently asking, “What have you, Mr. B&N, done for us, lately?”
With inefficiency like this, is it any wonder BN is in trouble?
I love them. They are far more likely to host events because they want to draw in business, and they want to support solid new books. They tend to be more efficient because they don’t have a giant corporate head peering down their blouses, and their staff tends to be far more experienced and knowledgeable. With all the events I’ve planned over the years, I experience far fewer problems with indie bookstores.
But they’re a dying breed, which I lament every day. And because they’re indies, there isn’t a cohesive uniformity about what books they carry. The flip side is that they are more likely to write purchase orders based on personal contact, be it from regional sales teams or the publishers.
Amazon, the Behemoth and BN.com, the distant cousin
Their attraction is availability, discounting, and fast shipping. I can get an ebook within seconds…while I’m sitting on the beach or rotting at the airport. As a consumer, I can read Stacia Kane’s Unholy series, or I can choose from the other 35 e-books sitting on my phone and tablet with a nip of my pinkie finger. Readers can get their physical books in a couple days…for less. As a publisher, this is music to my ears.
As much as Amazon can drive me nuts, I never have to worry about our books being stocked – and discounted. The downside is that there are millions of books on those sites, so it’s hard to make like cream and rise to the top. In a bookstore, the reader can peruse the shelves, kick the tires, and read a few pages. Sure, you can do that, somewhat, on Amazon, but the experience is different. On the other hand, you can buy a book (or three) in the comfort of your computer – on your own time – rather than getting in the car and driving to a bookstore.
No one knows where retail book buying is headed, but publishers have to pay close attention to the aspects that stand in our way of selling books – and none of the choices are optimal.
- Amazon/BN.com = great pricing, availability, instant gratification
- BN stores = arbitrary, decisions made by one person, the genre buyer
- Indie bookstores = great, knowledgeable, but not enough of them to keep publishers afloat
In spite of the frustrations and uncertainty, I can’t imagine a world without books, and it behooves all of us publishers to figure out a way to keep our product in front of readers’ eyes.