For booksellers, it’s all about direct customer connections

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

For booksellers, it’s all about direct customer connections.

The existential challenge brick-and-mortar booksellers face is not much different than the challenge of other physical goods retailers. Simply put, there are better, more convenient digital options available and more options are arriving each day.

What booksellers have lacked, to date, is the ability to cost effectively engage with their customers in the mobile / digital arena.

Google attempted to help them solve this problem – and provided booksellers (and their customers) with a direct connection to Google Books. This effectively removed the customer from the bookseller and made them Google Books customers for their ebook purchases – if it didn’t drive them straight to better recognized alternatives from Amazon or Barnes & Noble. The ABA endorsed this program. Not smart. It’s difficult to see how this was ever a good idea. For a service provider, coming between a business and its customers is never a good idea.

Let’s add more fuel to the fire.

The Google program was so lackluster (and disconnected) for booksellers that Google discontinued it. To address this issue, the ABA “revamped” its approach to supporting its independent booksellers by replacing Google Books with Kobo.


Instead of a “web / app” solution that actually minimized the loss of the booksellers digital customers (i.e. there were no dominant point of sale presentations), the new ABA backed Kobo solution delivers booksellers pop-up kiosks for their stores – kiosks which promote the Kobo devices and service. These are devices that take the customer further away from the bookseller. These are devices on which a reader can now directly purchase ebooks from Kobo – not the bookseller. These are devices that, while providing booksellers with a nominal revenue share from the sale of the Kobo ebooks, offer nothing more in terms of customer loyalty or customer-to-bookseller connectivity.

Again. Brilliant.

All of this is spun as “good” for booksellers if you read all of the ABA / Kobo materials. The bookseller now has a powerful digital offering – one that enables their customers to purchase devices and ebooks right in store.

This isn’t good. It isn’t close to good.

The only way a mobile / digital solution works for booksellers is when the bookseller (not a third-party) gains full control of the customer relationship. Period. There are no half-way houses. None.

Look at the successful digital content businesses. Amazon, Apple, Google, Hulu, Netflix, etc. They are all directly connected to their customers. There are no intermediary brands or services. Amazon was so successful that WalMart and Target took their devices out of their stores because of the competitive impact on customer ownership.

The solution for booksellers is one that enables them to cost effectively offer their customers ebooks. The solution for booksellers is one that connects their hard-earned customers to the bookstore, to the bookseller as a person or persons with whom trust is built. The solution for booksellers further strengthen theses relationships. The solution for booksellers does not push them further away from their customers with the presence of an intermediary brand.

The Google and Kobo initiatives should be applauded for their effort and their willingness to risk capital to support independent businesses. Seriously. They should. These aren’t easy decisions to make and they aren’t easy programs to implement.

However, makeshift solutions that build yet another business on the backs of independent businesses are going to do nothing but continue to cripple these businesses. These efforts are simply a case of loving them to death, if you will.

It’s time real problems start being addressed for booksellers (and other content retailers, too).

The big question is, who’s stepping up?

Expert Publishing Blog
Chris Rechtsteiner

About Chris Rechtsteiner

Chris Rechtsteiner is the founder and chief strategist for BlueLoop Concepts, a research and advisory firm focused on helping companies establish defensible market positions for mobile / digital media. He is also the publisher of Thinking Out Loud - a weekly newsletter uncovering the top trends in digital media. You can follow him on Twitter @Rechtsteiner and read other posts on his blog. When Chris isn’t working with clients to help shape their product and customer engagement strategies, he can be found snowboarding with his two sons.


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