The best days of my childhood were at the bookstore. My mom and I would go into town on a Saturday or Sunday, usually not on the day I played soccer, and spend several hours at the Borders Bookstore (Rest in Peace). I would browse the children’s books, she the romance. But here is the thing: in the music section there were 4 very big, very comfy couches. There were chairs through the store, and a café. But the couches…
We would spend hours at the store reading books (I usually had at least 10 I was trying to convince my mom to buy). And then the bookstore closed. Fast forward a few years and I moved to New York.
The first day I went to a Barnes & Noble, I was shocked at the lack of seating. I get it, these are smaller buildings and all that, but REALLY? When I watched young teens try to sit and read, they were promptly told to get up, it is a fire hazard. I get it, I do. But I watched those kids put back the books they were reading, grab the latest bestseller, and leave. And I was so frustrated!
When publishers sell to bookstores, they sell the books at a reduced price: wholesale price. To turn a profit, the bookstore sells the book for the list price. This is one of the reasons Amazon is hated: they buy the books from publishers, and then mark the book down to get customers to come (it is called a loss leader; i.e. sell something for a loss in the hopes that customers will return for something else).
But Barnes & Noble could rival Amazon. Stay with me: Starbucks is in the environment of coffee. They don’t just sell coffee; they have created an atmosphere of coffee. Barnes & Nobles is currently in the business of selling books, but they need to be in the environment of books.
Imagine if Barnes & Noble encouraged spending the day there. Some of you might argue that people would just read the books and leave without buying. There are people like that now. Heck, I have been that person. But when you create the environment of reading, people want to linger.
Children will look past the new bestseller and stumble on some middle list authors. Amazon is not a good tool to stumble upon new books. People go there when they know what they want. And the recommendation tool sometimes gurgles out the same books I bought elsewhere.
One of the problems with Barnes & Noble is price. So to play devil’s advocate: drop the price a bit. Don’t be like Amazon and use it as a loss leader, if the prices are lowered by a dollar or so, then you can pull people in and have them linger over your environment.
A lot of indie bookstores do this exact thing. It’s why they are loved.
Be in the business of books, not just selling them.