Summer is here and the unofficial season of reading has begun. On beaches, during long car/plane trips, and/or on the decks of cruise ships — the time has come for all consumers to crack the physical and digital spines of all of those books they purchased but haven’t gotten around to reading just yet.
If consumers today were behaving the way all of the pundits forecast in 2010, all consumers reading those books would be doing so on digital screens: Kindles, iPads, you name it.
Books, said those pundits, were going to be as dead as newspapers. By 2015 physical books were going to be for Luddites and still listen to music on record players.
But, as we know, consumer tastes have a way of defying the predictions – and technology never gets adopted quite as quickly as predicted. It turns out that people are a bit more committed to “old fashioned” physical books than initially expected.
Data released by Nielsen earlier this year indicates that e-book sales may have peaked in 2011-2012 and have actually been on the decline in 2013 and 2014.
While some have enthusiastically taken the data — particularly when paired with results on the Kindle e-reader’s falling sales over the last few years — as an indication that perhaps e-books were something of a fad, Nielsen did not conclude that from its own data.
A better synopsis might be that e-books do particularly well in some segments, particularly adult fiction, and not as well in others, particularly children’s and juvenile fiction. This means they are an important part of the market, but unlikely to ever become all of it.
Which should come as something of good news to those in the business of selling physical books: Amazon simply will not render them as irrelevant as a printed newspaper daily. However, it’s also not really great news – as one English local bookseller told The Guardian earlier this year, since Amazon is also very good at selling people physical books.
“You do get an awful lot of people who browse then disappear and never come back to buy the book. It’s so easy to order online – they can scan the barcode with their phones and be taken straight to an online retailer like Amazon,” Saltaire Bookshop owner David Ford told The Guardian.
Amazon became the mega-market it is today selling books — making it easy for consumers to find titles — even odd and old ones, and order them for cheaper than they can get in a store, often within two or three days. And that can make it hard for smaller local shops to compete.
Or it least it has in the past.
U.K. startup Bookindy thinks it can change that and turn Amazon’s competitive advantage into a bigger advantage for the local bookstores it competes with.
“What small booksellers mainly need is a tech champion to level out the playing field, since individually they can’t compete with Amazon — and it is an utter waste of resources to try,” Bookindy’s founder William Cookson told PYMNTS. “It’s not that Amazon is always cheaper and books are largely the same no matter who you purchase them from. What Amazon is, is many products, easy to find, easy to search so it has become the one-stop shop for everything, the de facto.”
Bookindy is currently available as a Chrome Extension for U.K. users that changes the navigation experience on Amazon a little. Though the site looks and functions as it normally would, alongside Amazon’s price, a box appears that lists the price of the same book available from a local bookstore. That box contains a seperate (non-Amazon) buy button that allows the user to purchase the book (and in some cases arrange same-day delivery).
The Bookindy app is powered by Hive, an online independent retailer for U.K. local booksellers.
“For lazy, laptop-in-bed, impulse-purchase people like me, Amazon is a dream — it offers me a familiar catalogue of books, ready to purchase with a click and get delivered next day,” noted Cookson, who also noted that Amazon is reliable and trustworthy and was not something that it seemed prudent to attempt to take on “with a slingshot.”
“If we are to buy from independent bookshops again, it’s not going to be because we feel terrible and guilty or a sense of obligation. Amazon provides a useful service and it is good for customers to demand something as convenient as Amazon. I wanted to build something that doesn’t compete head-on with the Amazon machine, but embraces it, augments it and nudges you towards the local option to buy. Bookindy embraces Amazon’s well-ordered and familiar catalogue for browsing and allows you to buy the book from your local independent bookshop shop if you want to.”
Cookson believes that consumers don’t actually have to be sold all that hard with physical retail, especially when it comes to buying books, because consumers actually like that experience. Data seems to bear out that claim – Nielsen’s report concludes that consumers particularly prefer book buying “experiences” where staff makes recommendations and the store is inviting. And local bookstores have been reporting better fortunes in recent years, mainly on the strength of personalizing customer experiences.
Bookindy is only available in the U.K. right now – though Cookson noted that they are currently “working on updating the extension for U.S. and other countries,” though no specific time frame is attached to that. He also noted the firm currently makes money by taking 5 percent of the book’s price – whether the book is purchased online and picked up in-store or delivered.
Consumers are a tough group to predict. In 2010, it really did seem like physical books’ heyday was behind them. And the shuttering of some of the biggest book purveyors didn’t do much to dispel that notion. Even Ikea literally started redesigning “bookshelves” to do other things since people weren’t going to have books to display on them anymore.
But as confounding as consumers can be, it is interesting to note how the digital marketplace increasingly allows merchants — even small ones — to hedge their bets and simply not decide and offer consumers a little bit of everything. Omnichannel, the independent bookstore way, may be only a click away.