This was a panel put on as part of Bookbuilders of Boston‘s Spring Workshops. It was hosted at Emerson College. Well worth attending; the cheese plate was delicious.
Our panelists were:
The affable Ned Lomigora, a sales rep at Zeeen, an online promotional platform for authors that especially works with Indies. He specializes in analytics and digital media. He’s also a presenter and contributor for WordPress Boston.
The illustrious Dale Szceblowski, the General Manager at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, one of the hubs of the literary scene in the Boston area. He’s been in the book-buying and book-selling business for 30 years. Vice President of the New England Booksellers Association.
And the perspicacious Judith Rosen, a Senior Bookselling Editor and the New England correspondent at Publishers Weekly for 15 years. Previously she has worked in marketing and publicity for trade publishers, Wordsworth Books, and wrote a regular column for the Boston Herald.
Obviously, they all had differing points of view from their positions in the market:
Running an independent bookstore, Dale sells books and works with authors mostly from traditional publishing. Much of his sales are physical books as opposed to e-books.
Ned works largely with independent authors and small presses to market books to their audiences online through social media and analytics. Presumably, many of the sales resulting from the promotion of Indie authors will be e-books.
Judith is in between, writing about the business from her experiences working as an independent bookseller, promoter, and traditional press publisher but now as an outsider observing trends through a “journalist-neutral” lens.
The panelists were quite respectful of each other despite Dale and Ned being almost diametrically opposed on either side of the business.
Here are some highlights:
Note: Some quotes may have been edited or truncated in the transcribing.
Dale: “The advantage to owning an independent bookstore as opposed to a chain is that we’re able to constantly respond to the local market/local audience.”
“With Borders gone and Barnes and Noble floundering, it’s become a mini-renaissance for independent bookstores. [Porter Square Books] is largely successful because we see ourselves as community based.”
Judith: “Rent has been a difficult factor [in bookstore closings], in fact that’s what doomed Borders.”
Borders had long term leases with steep rents on many of their properties. Their margins couldn’t make up the difference.
Judith: “Authors need a platform. An author is much better starting with a tight narrow audience and gradually widening it out.”
Ned: “In order for the average author to succeed you have to do things yourself. The hardest thing is to find the right audience for the book. It’s more art than science. Narrow down the focus. Figure out who the ideal audience is. Then you build. It’s more profitable to own 50% of a small market than only 5% of a large one.”
Dale: “I’m amazed with the different ways for people to find out about books now. People are coming from everywhere. We seem to get preorders 6 months in advance of publication. It used to be only one or two.”
Ned: “One person with personal knowledge is better than 100 strangers to get someone to read something.”
Dale: “Events are how we introduce readers to writers, but we put on all kinds of events.” Sometimes, they’re even called on to sell books at individual’s book launches at their homes.
“We happen to be one of two stores selected by Neil Gaiman to take pre-orders of signed books. It showed the power of social media to drum up business for booksellers as well as authors.”
Main reason PSq Book was chosen? “His wife Amanda Palmer likes the egg-rolls at our affiliated cafe located in store.” You can still pre-order signed copies from Porter Square Books.
Sales resulting from book events? “15 years ago, if 30% of the audience bought the book the event was considered a success, nowadays it’s closer to 15%.” These days: Larger audiences and fewer sales.
Bookstore of the Future:
Judith: “My friend told me she would not open a physical bookstore again until it was clear what the Bookstore of the Future would look like.”
What’s the Bookstore of the Future? “The origin of the term came from “Store of the Future” from the National College Association when they started streamlining what an academic bookstore would be by removing all trade books that weren’t in the curriculum. Still exceptions like the COOP of Harvard University, but mostly it’s now this way across the country.
“To independent sellers “Bookstore of the Future” means getting around the problems that come with competing with e-books, Amazon, and “show-rooming.”
I’ve heard this term thrown around occasionally. What is show-rooming?
Show-rooming is when people come in to browse titles and then buy their books elsewhere like at Amazon. Some people say publishers should pay booksellers for show-rooming since the publishers will still get the sale.”
Ned: “Anyone can publish a book these days; It doesn’t mean it will sell. There isn’t a systematic way to use technology to help you promote and sell your book [but] the technology exists already we just have to harness it. Look at the industries that have already used this technology successfully and see how they do it. We should be able to do it in publishing.”
Dale: “80% of Amazon’s sales are still physical books and products. Our focus is on connecting physical books with readers.”
Porter Square Books has an online and ebook presence but it only makes up about 1% of sales. From this I can surmise that people shopping at physical bookstores still buy paper books.
“Very high resistance to e-books among baby boomer generation and older.”
KOBO vs. Kindle:
KOBO e-reader is an e-reader to compete with Amazon Kindle and allow consumers to purchase e-books that support their neighborhood bookstores.
Judith: “Porter Square Books did well and sold over 100 KOBO over the holiday season 2012. Amazon shipped over 750,000 Kindles across the US during the same time period. Even if the 15,000 Indie bookstores did as well it would not be close to the same amount of sales.”
Highly interesting and informative panel. I met several other writers and publishing pals in the audience.