Like a lot of things in life, a balanced position is the ideal and the bricks and mortar book market is no exception. Too many competing bookstores, chasing a finite amount of customers will mean the potential book spend is spread too thinly for everyone to get a decent slice of the action. One of the Holy Grail’s in retailing is to expand market share, without increasing overheads – result increase in profits. A few news items over the last few weeks illustrate these issues – one which could help our children’s indies and the other could adversely affect the fragile balance on the high street.
Head teachers at two secondary schools have asked their local children’s indies to set up ‘pop up ‘ bookshops in an effort to encourage pupils to buy books and forge the habit of reading. I am sure this will be a welcome expansion for Tales on Moon Lane and Boooka. There will presumably be lower margin on the books sold through these new ventures ( the schools will want their cut) but no extra investment in infrastructure and low overheads mean that they could be a great way to increase sales for these businesses. From the schools’ perspective, children are introduced to the idea of choosing and buying their own books and thus nurturing readers and book buyers of the future. These Head teachers obviously value the professionalism and expertise of their local indies and have chosen to partner with them over bigger players, which is encouraging. A pop up shop by definition is ‘short term retail space’ but hopefully Tales and Booka will find them profitable ventures and a good way to expand sales, and these school shops will develop into something more permanent. Like all things in business it will depend on the numbers.
Over in Seattle, Amazon’s long rumoured foray into bricks and mortar retailing has become a reality. Pictures of the store’s interior shows an all face out display of books and a carefully selected stock chosen from the vast amount of online data which anyone who has bought anything on Amazon has happily given them with a mountain of reviews to boot. I have to say the pictures do indicate an attractive shopping experience, particularly if you are a novice book buyer who is not looking for depth of stock.
The news of Amazon opening its first physical bookstore has been met with mixed reactions from the UK book trade – rather predictably, most indies are dismayed by the idea of Amazon bricks and mortar stores whilst publishers are rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of selling more books. I think the spectre of Amazon arriving on UK high streets is certainly something for both indies and the chains to fear and possibly publishers should be thinking longer term than the early increase in sales they might achieve before the inevitable bookstore closures that would follow. For this behemoth of the book trade to gain a greater market share is in no one’s best interest. As for other high street retailers, a click and collect model could seriously damage other sectors and Amazon already have the infrastructure in place to roll this out.
For the big players,the UK retail book landscape seems to have settled over the last 15 years. The demise of Borders, Ottakers, Hammicks and Books Etc, has left Waterstones as the only countrywide chain alongside London players Foyles and Daunts. Strong indies are surviving by working extremely hard and being super creative but should Amazon decide that the bricks and mortar model is profitable they will not hesitate to roll it out over here with I fear, disastrous consequences for competing physical bookshops. The arrival of high street Amazon stores on these shores could prove catastrophic for both indies and chains. Too many players and there just isn’t enough to go around.