Book, book and e-way
17.09.12 | Benedicte Page
To e or not to e? That is the question for independent retailers at the Booksellers Association conference in Warwick today (Monday 17th September).
BA chief Tim Godfray kicked off the issue with his decisive opinion column in The Bookseller on Friday, telling independents that they need to get on board with e-book buying, ideally this autumn. At early morning coffee today, a throng of interested booksellers surrounded Kobo's Phil Wood, eager to learn more about the Kobo offer (and perhaps play with some of the devices) - yet many indies are still unconvinced that e-book retailing will work for them.
"Why am I going to sell people devices which mean they don't come back to my bookshop?" asked Matthew Clarke of the Torbay Bookshop. "I'm running a business. In five years they'll all be reading e-books on mobile phones and the devices will be redundant anyway."
Sue Steel of Simply Books in Bramhall, Cheshire, said she was keeping an open mind but that e-books were currently "not in our thinking, not in the mix." Steel said that nobody had shown the shop how to do it, and that currently the bookshop was going down the "community" route rather than the digital route, building business through running reading groups and holding cinema showings.
One bookseller said he had made less than £10 in a year selling e-books through Gardners' Hive website.
The BA's attempts to spark this market have been mixed. Though Kobo is actively promoting its offer, and devices at the conference, and Gardners unveiled the GoTab device at its trade show ahead of the conference, Anobii has 'postponed' its indie launch until 2013, while US bookseller Barnes & Noble has said it will not supply independents with its Nook devices until 2013, preferring to concentrate on its major partners -- Foyles and Blackwells among them -- this year.
The effect of low e-book prices on high street physical book retailing was also clearly high in people's minds, with Tim Walker of Walker's Books pointing out, in what appeared to be a reference to James Herbert's Ash, that a book on sale in his shop at £18.99 is on sale in its digital edition at 20p, "less than it costs to go to the loo on many of our mainline railway stations".
One bookseller who has been convinced to go digital is Patrick Booth of independent Plackitt & Booth, who is preparing to sign up to the Kobo offer, attracted by terms of 50% on the net revenue per sale. "We're being pushed into e-book selling, we wouldn't have chosen for the e-book to happen, but since it is it would be mad not to be involved in it, and Kobo is a big brand," he said. Matt Taylor of Chorleywood Bookshop also said he would probably be getting on board with e-sales.
The mood at the conference is focused and cheerful, with a busy bookseller attendance ensured by offering free places at the event with booksellers only having to pay accommodation costs. Andrew Steel of Simply Books said events like the BA conference were more important than ever because of the change surging through the industry. "We are at a crossroads and independents who don't recognize that are in trouble," he said.
High on the agenda for many booksellers is what measures publishers will take to support them to continue to be a valuable showroom for books on the high street.
Publishers exhibiting at the Gardner's Trade Show yesterday (Sunday) reported lots of interest and enthusiasm from booksellers attending, and remained upbeat about sales prospects despite the tough business environment, with one pointing out wryly that "slightly down is the new up."