Recently, I was back in my hometown of London, Ontario, home of 850,000 college students and absolutely nothing to do.
(It is a fact agreed upon by all major cultures and faiths that if you were in a town or city during your teenage years, there is “absolutely nothing to do” there. This is true even if you grew up in Manhattan.)
Given that there was absolutely nothing to do, I did what I did when I was a teenager and there was absolutely nothing to do – I went to Chapters. (Chapters is Canada’s Barnes and Noble.)
In the fiction section, there was something new. A custom library, apparently printed specifically for Chapters, called “Color Your Library”. (It was actually called “Colour Your Library” but I get helpful emails from Americans correcting my spelling when I write it that way.)
Thirty books, all re-releases, put out by Penguin, in a rainbow of colors. When you put them on your shelf in a row, you make a rainbow.
For $348.50 (that includes the fairly random $160 discount you get for buying all 30) you can have a library of 30 books, 24 of which you’ve probably never heard of, and 14 of which you’d probably never read if they were the last books on earth.
I’m thinking of getting it, because it looks wonderful.
Here’s why you care.
Oh, God, she’s going to start talking about the book industry
As you’re aware, the book industry has gone a little… kittywompus.
Bookstores are… in rough shape.
Paper books are… in rough shape.
The Kindle/Kobo/et al are kicking the proverbial ass and taking the proverbial names.
For IttyBiz, this is the best thing since the Easy Bake Oven. We became pretty known for launching ebooks, and that was a big business BEFORE all the book industry shenanigans.
Then being self-published became a reasonable, credible thing to do and now most of my time is spent launching people’s books.
Kindle/Kobo/et al are big business for us as a company.
But for me, personally, I’m not a fan.
I like bookstores.
I like books.
I like books printed on paper that I can thumb through and crack the spines and write in the margins.
I like to smell the pages. I like to use the books as art. I like to stack books in pretty piles and put candles on top.
I leave books I want Dave or Jamie to read in the office bathroom because I know they’re both incapable of ignoring a book that’s already open. (It’s like a sickness.) Can’t do that with an ebook. (Well, you can. But you’d have to say, “read this”, and where’s the passive aggression FUN in that?)
We have both a Kindle and a Kobo that we originally bought to read and review client books, but they have inadvertently become the de facto book repositories of choice, purely on convenience and price.
Kindle and Kobo books are cheaper. And instant. And you can take them with you to the Middle East without increasing the weight of your bag.
The Kindle and the Kobo are objectively better. I know this.
They’re not books, you know?
Then Chapters has a brainwave.
Now, if you were a big box bookstore and all of your competitors were folding like cheap tents in a hail of locusts, you might realize that you have two options.
One, you can crap your pants and try to sell more candles and blankets and whatever non-book items booksellers are putting on display these days.
Two, you can play a little game of Clue and figure out…
The thing YOU have that THEY do not.
Yes, the Kindle/Kobo machine is pretty much eating the paper book industry.
They’ve started calling the Big Six “legacy publishers” for God’s sake.
That’s never a good sign.
Yes, they have the physical act of reading. They have price. They have convenience. They have accessibility.
It’s cheaper and easier and faster.
You can make the text bigger and smaller and voyeuristically peer at what other people are highlighting.
You can read Fifty Shades of Grey in the teacher’s lounge and nobody knows it but you.
All of this is true.
In order to buy a Kindle book I have NEVER ONCE had to rifle through my laundry pile to try and find a pair of pants that didn’t have tomato sauce or gingerbread house icing on them, never had to clear snow off my car, never had to bribe Jack to go out in the cold and haul our asses halfway across the city.
All of this is also true.
(Remind me to tell you about the time in Vegas I dragged Dave to a completely different city, by taxi, to buy a book that it turned out Johnny had on his shelf the whole time. I thought the Barnes and Noble was ON Henderson. Turns out it was IN Henderson. Then Dave told me he had Amazon Prime anyway and could’ve had it shipped to the hotel overnight.)
(Give me a break. I live in Canada. We don’t have free overnight shipping here. We’re primitives, okay?)
So, yes. Ebooks have a hell of a lot going for them.
But they don’t have everything.
And if you’re a big box bookstore, you have to start thinking of what they do NOT have. Like the ability to make covers that function as art, for example.
If your competitors are beating you in this game, it might behoove you to play a different game.
My grandfather, a great ad man in the era of great ad men, used to say, “If you can’t win the war, get off the battlefield.”
Put another way, “If they’re going to beat you at this game, find a different game. Ideally, one they don’t want to play.”
Here’s what I thought about when I saw those books.
I thought, “Oh, my God, they’re beautiful! Jack is going to love them!”
I thought, “Wouldn’t those look gorgeous on the white wall between the lemon one and the tangerine one?”
I thought, “Maybe I could read one a week and then I could blog about it and then maybe I could be like one of those people who does that kind of yearlong project thing and I could write a book about it except mine wouldn’t suck because MAN those things suck but mine totally wouldn’t.”
I have not yet thought anything like that about the Kindle.
And you know what’s neat about that?
The Kindle doesn’t care.
Because your competitors are not trying to beat you.
They’re just trying to make money.
They’re not evil despots, out to steal your market share in the night.
Realistically, they don’t even WANT market share. They SAY they want market share, but they actually want revenue and profit.
It’s not like they’re sitting around over a glass of wine at dinner scheming up ways to ruin you.
They’re just trying to make more money.
So if it’s really bad and you can’t win, stop playing.
Let them win.
There’s no shame in playing something else.
If you can’t win Selling Books, try Selling Libraries.
Sell me nostalgia.
Sell me a sense of growing up and coming into my own.
Sell me that dream I had when I was a kid, imagining what my library would look like one day.
Woo me with a substantial (and manufactured) discount, and a rainbow, and pipe in some Christmas music that makes me feel like now is the time to do something wonderful for myself.
You might fail, but if your competition is completely kicking your ass already, you were failing anyway.
You may as well try.