Since the negotiations between Amazon and Hachette have made the news with authors chiming in on both sides, the old Chinese curse has become a reality. We do indeed live in interesting times.
We also live in times that are lagging far behind the 21st century and the technological age. The Big-5 publishers, Hachette, included are working with the old publishing model, even though these media conglomerates have gobbled up every major publisher, and have become mega-corporations with tens of billions of dollars in business and profit every year. Though they claim to be preserving the future of publishing so there will always be books, it's rather like a member of the 1% claiming to understand what it is like for the middle and lower classes of people getting by from paycheck to paycheck and wanting enough disposable income to buy the books they want. In short, that dog won't hunt.
In easier to understand words, the 1% does not have a clue.
Make no mistake, Hachette and the other members of the Big-5 belong to the 1%, as Barry Eisler writes in The Guardian. As Eisler states, "[The Big-5] have done all they can to try to keep the prices of books artificially high, which hurts consumers and costs authors money. They have a record of zero innovation. And they've run the industry for decades in a way that has benefited the few while stifling new opportunities for the many."
James Patterson, multi-million dollar author and employer of a cadre of writers to help churn out 13 books a year, has bought some pretty expensive ads to brand Amazon the bad guy. Did I mention Patterson is a Hachette author? No smoking gun there.
Patterson decries the loss of Mom and Pop bookstores when he should, as Eisler put it, "...reconsider their anti-Amazon ideology, which at root is an attempt to stop the evolution of publishing itself. Because indie authors are the mom-and-pop shops of publishing. And the 1 percent's war on Amazon risks turning us into collateral damage."
Despite this war on Amazon and Hachette claiming to the victim of Amazon's bullying (at least as seen by author, John Greene ), a great opportunity is being lost. This is the 21st century and we live in an age of technological marvels with the life span of a mayfly. In order to compete and stay in business, bookstores need to move with the times, do what Amazon has done, and remodel their businesses. It's time to stop relying on returning thousands of books for full refunds, as they have since the Great Depression when publishers needed to keep bookstores open to sell books, and find a new path through the wilderness. One thing bookstores can be certain of is that books are not going away any time soon.
Amazon puts the customer first and that is what has taken Jeff Bezos's business from his parents' garage into a billion dollars international business. Bezos saw the future and he used technology to create a new business model, one that Hachette and the rest of the Big-5 want to dismantle.
Small bookstores should ask what customers need and want and make that happen. One bookstore turned an old mansion into a haven for customers with niches and nooks and comfortable spots to kick back, relax, and read. They made their store a comfortable place to enjoy a book for an hour or three. It's a step in the right direction, but doesn't go far enough.
How about charging stations for cell phones, tablets, eReaders, and laptops? Charge a small fee for the convenience.
Download stations for eBooks would be a good idea. No charge, just a secure line to do business from whatever store the customer chooses. The customer will repay the owners by spending more time in the store and end up buying books. Owners could also get a license to offer eBooks on every platform available for reading eBooks and offer accessories, skins, and trade-ins (or trade-ups) for all devices. Give customers a sample of whatever book they're considering or bundle print and eBook at a good price. The technology is available, so why not move with the times?
There are machines that print books in minutes, so why not buy a few and offer to print a customer's book in the store? The Espresso Book Machine would be perfect for that, and there are machines from other companies so you can shop price and availability.
Why not have a repair shop for laptops, tablets, and eReaders? Carry the parts and make repairs while the customers waits -- and reads. Another option would be to offer a loaner while their machine is being repaired. Think outside the box.
Host author evenings and round tables. Be THE place to go to discuss books and genres with published authors, beginning with local authors. Be a favored spot on a book tour. Offer classes in writing and editing for hopefuls and provide a comfortable setting for meetings. Start a book club or host other book clubs at the store. The possibilities are endless.
Instead of hanging signs predicting the Death of Books or the End of Books, strike out into the future with a new plan and forge a future in the ever changing print and digital world. The end is not near unless you have no vision and want to, like Hachette, blame Amazon for all your troubles. Closing one door doesn't mean being stuck in limbo or dying a slow and painful death. Another door will open, but one has to have the vision and guts to make a new door.
Let the world choose sides while Hachette and the rest of the Big-5 pretend to be victims of Amazon's innovation and forward thinking, but make a future that is all yours. It sounds like such a great idea, I may find some like-minded people and buy a bookstore going out of business to start my own. The future is here now. Be a part of it, change with the times, but don't complain if you get run over standing goggle-eyed while the train hits you. You've no one to blame but yourself.