I had an idea yesterday morning and was discussing it with Hubby while we were out hiking. There are a few indisputable facts about the publishing world today that only someone with their head firmly and irretrievably up their ass can deny:
- E-books are here to stay.
- E-book sales are growing exponentially every year.
- The former traditional publishing model is archaic and resulting in booksellers large and small shuttering their doors.
- E-books are far cheaper to make and distribute than dead-tree books, and can be far more profitable.
- Dead-tree books aren’t dead, but the traditional publishing industry needs to reform their model around e-book sales and focus on making print-on-demand cheaper and easier to reduce their print costs and stay profitable and move away from the old paradigm where books are destroyed if not sold.
Okay, those five points, despite how the Big 6 wants the public to believe that point 4 isn’t true (indie and successful self-published authors have proved it’s true) are pretty much agreed upon by sane people familiar with the face of publishing.
There’s another point I’d like to bring up:
- Cities and counties, faced with making budget cuts due to the recent economic downturn, are either closing libraries, drastically reducing their operating hours, or cutting funding to them.
I know this to be true here locally in Florida. I can’t imagine it’s any different anywhere else in the country.
Why do I mention libraries?
Hear me out. There’s still two huge bookseller chains left in the US, Barnes and Noble, and Books-A-Milion. Both of these have customer programs where you pay an annual fee and you get a discount card, right? Why not institute an add-on program, for an additional small fee, to create a lending library system?
Keep listening. I used to work for a national auto parts chain. They had a lending tool program, where if you needed a tool to work on your vehicle, and you didn’t want to buy one because you knew you either a) couldn’t afford to buy it just to use it once, or b) didn’t want to buy it, you could borrow it. What you did was pay the full price for the tool, and when you brought it back, you got a refund. We could stock tools normally not available for sale in a DIY parts store, we didn’t need to keep a large, speculative stock quantity on hand, and if they didn’t bring it back we would just order another one from the warehouse, but we weren’t out any money. It also meant we didn’t lose parts sales to a garage who did repairs just because the customer didn’t have the necessary tools to do the job.
Win-win for us and the customer. Especially in those cases where the customer just never returned the tool, even if they didn’t need to keep it. But the law of averages meant we made some “free” money where the tools were kept. Just like many retailers know that with gift cards, there will always be a certain percentage never redeemed, meaning “free” money for them.
Are you following me?
So why can’t large booksellers (and maybe someone could create some sort of online cooperative membership for smaller booksellers to buy in to to participate without having outlay in computer programming expenses) do the same? Maybe even have a premium “lending” membership, where they can keep certain titles of current bestsellers (or perennial bestsellers) on hand specifically as “lending” copies that the premier customers aren’t charged for (but if they don’t bring them back it gets charged to their account)?
They could even have a reasonable time limit and return conditions. Say, you can keep a book and return it, as long as it’s in resalable condition, maybe for a month. If you returned it between one month and two months, you only get store credit, or only get X% of the sale price back. There will automatically be a percentage of customers who, for whatever reason, don’t return the book, even if they didn’t intend to keep it. So the bookstore made a sale it might not have made before.
And they don’t even need to make all books lendable. It could be just for fiction. Or maybe even they could have another level of membership where you pay and it gives you the ability to access all books as “lendable.” That could be a boon for someone who is a voracious reader, but either doesn’t have a library close by, or doesn’t want to go through the sometimes long wait times for new releases. And you might have people who buy the membership because it’s an add-on to the regular discount membership club fee, but they never utilize the service. Again, that’s “free” money for the bookseller.
This is an option that could potentially breathe new life into large booksellers, and offer a lifeline to smaller ones as long as someone could come up with an inexpensive way for small booksellers to participate without a huge capital outlay for computer programming. Maybe even a third-party co-op could charge booksellers a subscription fee, but then if the third party is handling the collecting of all the customer memberships, they could give the local bookseller a kick-back for each customer they sign up to the service. Then the bookseller could also benefit from sales of lent books never returned, and higher foot traffic for people who want to participate.
It’s something to think about, isn’t it? Instead of booksellers large and small screaming that their business is failing, they could embrace an idea like this and still be able to sell books and keep their business afloat instead of complaining about e-books and online retailers like Amazon killing their business.