Good Idea? Bad Idea?

Josie Leavitt -- June 27th, 2011

We’ve taken the plunge, with the help of Google eBooks, to begin selling e-books on our website. Is this a good idea, or a bad idea? Only time will tell. My naive self thinks it could be a win-win, but the cynic in me thinks it could be the beginning of the slow and painful death of brick and mortar stores.

The hopeful in me thinks that my customers who have e-readers will now buy their e-books from me. Thereby, shopping local for their e-readers. It needs to be stated that only customers without Kindles can buy e-books from me. Kindle owners will continue to frequent Amazon and that could have more of a negative effect on the stability of physical stores than anything else. (This is a discussion for another day.) I should say, a lot of my e-book reading customers continue to buy physical books. They split their book purchases half and half with their e-readers and the book. These are the customers I think we’ll get to buy e-books, and these are customers who up till today, haven’t been buying e-books from me. I  can’t help but feel that being able to buy e-books from their trusted indie might garner more e-book sales than I think.

The cynic in me thinks too many people are now reading e-books, that a physical store might become unnecessary, and my selling the e-book is just contributing to my own demise. It’s a tricky situation. But to not offer e-books seems like I’m forcing customers to leave my store to buy their e-books.

No one knows what’s going to happen in a year, or five. I can’t imagine that bookstores will become obsolete. There are too many people who don’t have e-readers, or interest in them, that I think the need to hold a book will always remain. My fear is that the twenty somethings, who love their technology, will always want e-readers. And then there the kids who are growing up wired to everything and might not have the affection for the physical book as most adults who grew up with books do now. I wonder what four-year-olds, who might be playing with e-book apps, are going to feel about physical books when they have their own disposable income.

So, I’m standing on the precipice of a new bookselling age. I have been obsessively checking my website to see if I’ve sold any e-books. It’s only been four hours, and so far, I haven’t sold any.

There is for sure one up-side to customers being able to buy e-books from me: fewer awkward moments at the supermarket when a customer confesses that the reason they haven’t been into the store for a year is because they’re reading books on their iPad.

9 thoughts on “Good Idea? Bad Idea?

  1. Janni Lee Simner

    I deliberately went with a Sony ereader so I could download books from my local independent, too. Wasn’t even comfortable looking at ereaders, really, until there was a way to support indie bookstores while doing so.

    It’s good to know that I can now by ebooks from you, as well! This also strikes me as a way readers can support bookstores they love that they don’t live close enough to to support in person. Here’s hoping!

  2. Kathy Quimby

    I think it’s a good idea, especially when the bookstore is the community center that yours is. I also think that the current crop of twenty-somethings is less into e-books than we hear. They do like their phones and their laptops or iPads, but I’ve heard from enough of them who still want to read an ink-and-paper book. This may change as the generation that’s currently in elementary school grows up, but I’m not convinced that they’ll turn fully to e-books. In a digital world, there’s something as appealing about paper and ink as there is about brick and mortar, and talking to someone face-to-face.

  3. Heather Lyon

    We just enabled our website to sell ebooks, too. I offered (required) all staffers to buy an ebook “on the house” so they could try the interface. Those have been our only sales so far. I too worry about the slippery slope. But I hope to recover sales from our existing customers who have been guiltily buying ebooks elsewhere. Please keep us posted on how this shapes up for you.

  4. Eric Luper

    I think it is a good move for a bookstore as long as the bookstore works hard at being a consumer’s interface to the literary world. It’s the expertise of the bookstore owners/employees that is invaluable to me–and what keeps me going back. I shop at my local indie bookstore because they offer something e-books and Amazon cannot: community. Whether it’s lectures, book signings, book groups, supporting community events, slipping me a few ARCs on the sly or just making great book recommendations this is where a bookstore can develop customer loyalty.

    By reminding customers that they can buy e-books through you will steer them into supporting that community.

    Every business has to adjust its business plan as the landscape changes and e-books are a huge change. But e-books are here whether we like it or not. No matter how much we scowl, we can’t steer future buying trends. It would be like trying to divert a raging river with a funnel and an eyedropper.

    The fact that you are taking action, trying new things and doing your best to adjust, is great.

  5. Amanda D

    I think it’s good that you have both. I see what you’re saying about people’s buying preferences shifting, but at least your ebook sales will support your brick and mortar bookstore. If I had an ereader, I’d buy from you.

  6. Carol B. Chittenden

    Does anybody know how e-books are affecting the market for books in those nonreturnable Gift accounts? (Of which there must be 40 in the 30 local retail establishments.)

  7. Wendy

    Whether or not your customers will buy ebooks from you at this stage likely depends on how effectively you’ve been using your website in the past. If your customers are not used to going to your site to find out about the latest books and events, they probably won’t remember to go there when they want an ebook.

  8. Stephanie Scott

    I purposely bought a Nook so I could buy through my independent bookstore. It’s not the most convienent process, I admit. It takes several extra steps to get a book that way vs. directly from B&N’s site. However, this is something imprortant to me and I think it’s worth it. I think the smaller bookstores need to get on this and advertise it as an option and how to do it. Maybe you could draft up a simple how-to that’s reader-friendly and post on your website and send out in email or newsletter to your customers.

    There was a PW tweet today about how Algonquin books is offering promos for buying a hard copy book and then either getting a discounted version of teh same book in e-book format. If there is any way to tie in some kind of promotion to ebooks I think that would be a smart move for your bookstore; maybe we are too early in the game to make that happen, but never too early to think and strategize.

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