The American Booksellers Association has about 2,500 member stores mostly independent brick and mortar stores. Although a big chunk of the membership has not really spent much work on their online storefront, as booksellers adapt to online business models in a fraught global economic moment, the coming months of transition could determine whether independent bookstores survive. The Coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic has not just put a hold on bookstores storefronts but it will forever change the community events and operations of bookstores.
As of this writing 2 or 3 states in the 50 US States has started a phase re-opening on non-essential stores. A bookshop is always a place for community, belonging and refuge. I remember in 1998 when we started selling used and antiquarian books, customers who were die hard book lovers would be excited in flipping each book from the dust jacket to the different pages of a book in excitement. This pandemic experience will changed certainly some habits on how we browse or maybe how long we have to even decide going through all those pages meanwhile in the absence of a vaccine.
I also remember in very early 2000 when i was conversing with friends that we have started experimenting on the online book marketplaces while at the same opening up our own web store maintained by a former bookseller. At that time the mighty “A” was the talked of the book selling industry’s advocacy on how everyone can compete selling used books for a penny. We went through a lot in these marketplaces being made to adhere to exuberant marketplace selling fees and commissions not to forget the un-equal and un-bias adhering to rules and regulations being implemented by the operators of these marketplaces.
Sometime 2007, I met with my small staff to announced we will spend a good time of our resources to slowly build our own website, brand and presence. I didn’t really have a very good response as then our online exposure was mostly bleeding us with expenses instead of profits. This also was a time that if you don’t have the financial means to heavily spend on CPC, SEO, Adwords and Social Advertising your not gonna even show up in the internet search. Sad to say even today this end expenditure game still persist.
For us, the one good thing we got is maybe because we have been online for all these years, were kinda old in that manner that we actually have regular customers and visitors or our sites nowadays and we also show up on organic internet searches.
In the years since Amazon opened its online bookstore in 1995, the books market has evolved. Major chains, like Borders and Book World, have disappeared. Amazon now accounts for more than half of all book sales, and three quarters of all books or e-books bought online, according to Codex, a book audience research firm. Over the last five years, Amazon’s market share of all books has jumped 16%.
The Covid-19 pandemic with the shelter in place on major states the last 2 months had affected the entire US economy. Booksellers must take this as an online opportunity to start or strengthen their presence. Although we have some good ideas on curbside pick-up or delivery, the cost of doing business would be lesser if you could generate more online sales while establishing your brand. Amazon Prime, Fresh and Pantry has slowed down on their delivery as they focus on essential items for Covid-19.
Now is the best time for booksellers to use this to take orders online, pack, fulfill and ship as fast as one can using this as leverage. Although we know it also slows down even own fulfillment in our closed stores or houses due to safety precautions on social distancing and the like, the good news is that were also educating now the online book buyers that it’s about time they give their business and loyalty to the independent online booksellers.
Despite that grim statistic, Book Scan’s most recent weekly report shows the book industry managing relatively well. According to Book Scan, year-to-date sales are down 1.3 percent by unit and 3.2 percent by MSRP (manufacturer’s suggested retail price). Though unit sales fell 6.6 percent overall in the five weeks spanning the COVID-19 disruption (March 1–April 4), they recouped by 6.9 percent during the week of March 29–April 4. The New York metropolitan area, which plunged 15.7 percent overall March 1–April 4, surged ten percent March 29–April 4, and the Chicago/IN area had a 20.5 percent increase that week. Among Book Scan’s top 99 demographic areas, nearly a third reported flat or positive sales—not ideal but perhaps better than expected.
So if you haven’t really spent much time in your online storefront as bookstore owner, now is the time to do so. I’m optimistic as well that finally brick and mortar stores will finally have a change on one’s gradual thinking that “”online bookstores are indeed essential to the survival of the independent book selling industry””.