Monday, March 8, 2010

Bookstores vs. Amazon for Sales: Part II

The New York Times article on James Patterson (James Patterson, Inc.), was instructive regarding how publishers, and thus bookstores, cater to the big-time authors. A couple of paragraphs told about how the big publishers now put most of their marketing efforts behind their best selling authors, much more so now than the past. The result is that best-selling authors sell even more books, but the mid-list authors get very little marketing dollars. Publisher pay thousands of dollars to reserve top-placement sections of bookstores for their best-selling authors. Thus, the best-selling authors keep selling more copies while the rest of us may initially get into a bookstore, but will soon be sent back to publisher if we fail to sell, never to return.

Thus, even if the smaller authors get into the bookstores, if there isn't a strong marketing campaign (either by the author or the publisher), then people won't come to the bookstore looking for the book, and it will get returned.

I'm a small-time author, and am glad that my books are offered through Baker & Taylor and Ingram, but the bulk of my sales come through Amazon. And yes, in a sense, Amazon is just passive, but isn't that the current revolution in marketing - from "interruption marketing" to "I'll help you find me marketing"?

By optimizing my Amazon pages, posting articles on popular sites and blogs, getting reviews on popular sites and newspapers, and by having all these linked back to my Amazon page, I get regular sales. And I get 35% of each sale on Amazon - much, much better than the percentage of my sales to bookstores through the big wholesalers.

So for me it's both/and, but Amazon is becoming the bigger and bigger player for me.

J. Steve Miller
President, Legacy Educational Resources
Author of Enjoy Your Money! How to Make It, Save It, Invest It and Give It
"The money book for people who hate money books."

Brick and Mortar Bookstores vs. Amazon for Authors

An experience, a stat and a reflection on brick and mortar vs. Amazon:

An Experience

I write resources for those teaching character and life skills in public schools. When the two Superbowl contenders are decided, I immediately find out who the highest profile athletes are so that I can research them for character stories (what led them to such a high level of success.)

So Kurt Warner was quarterbacking in the Superbowl a couple of years ago and I decided to read his autobiography. He'd led his team to the Superbowl several years earlier in a spectacular bag-boy to Superbowl hero story and I thought, "This is as high a profile person as you can get. The Superbowl's a week away, the most watched media event of the year; so I'm sure his autobiography will be in my local bookstores."

I called Barnes & Noble, Borders and Books a Million. None carried it. One said they couldn't even order it. I ordered from Amazon.

A Stat

A few experiences like this one and people begin defaulting to Amazon. Here are the stats from 2008:

Barnes and = $466 million
Borders/ Waldenbooks = $3.11 billion
Barnes & Nobel/ B. Dalton = $4.52 billion = $5.35 billion (book sales only)

More importantly in 2008, Amazon’s sales grew by 16% while each of the other bookstore chains lost money. If this trend continues, Amazon will rapidly become a bigger and bigger player for authors, and bookstores will become less and less - particularly for small-time authors who can't be guaranteed to get into bookstores and be continually stocked there.

A Reflection

Don't get me wrong; I love bookstores! But after a couple of experiences like that, I began defaulting to Amazon. I support bookstores. I hang out at bookstores. But I depend on Amazon. It's a time issue. A local bookstore can carry only a small percentage of the millions of books in print, even of books that are recognized classics in their fields - like a Psychology text on "Persuasion" I couldn't find locally. After signing up for Amazon Prime, we never pay postage. And books come quickly to our door.

If you're a major selling author like Sue Grafton for novels or David McCullough for biographies, traditional brick and mortar bookstores, Walmart, etc. are wonderful sales outlets. For the rest of us, they are a useful outlet that people can order from, but not likely to carry us long-term.

If a person with as high a profile as Kurt Warner's (incredibly "high platform", which all publishers are looking to publish) can't keep his autobiography in the bookstores several years after it was written (and it was truly a well-written, inspiring book), then what chance do us low-profile authors have of keeping our books in bookstores over the years? At best, for low-profile authors, I'd suggest that brick and mortar bookstores are typically a short-term rather than long-term strategy.

I have a book on church music, published 17 years ago with a traditional publisher, with no marketing done for it in the past 15 years, that still sells steadily on Amazon. It probably lasted only a couple of years in bookstores.