“It’s going to be one of the biggest screw-ups in the history of book retail”—An interview with Michael Norris about SIMBA Information’s new Trends in Trade Book Retailing report
Brian Howard, Editor-in-Chief, Book Business Magazine
SIMBA Information’s new Trends in Trade Book Retailing report posits that the decrease in the number of bookstores that we saw in 2011 did not lead to a corresponding growth in ebook sales. This suggests that the showroom effect—where customers discover books at a bricks-and-mortar store and then buy them online—is real, and etailers have a vested interest in the success of physical bookstores.
The study results come from a proprietary consumer survey that attempts to reveal granular data about how people buy books, as well as where they hear about them and discover them. SIMBA polls this same audience several times a year and has been tracking how consumer habits have changed.
We caught up with Michael Norris, senior analyst of SIMBA Information’s Trade Books Group, to tell us more.
Book Business: How does this report square with news we’ve been hearing that ebook sales are indeed growing?
Michael Norris: I’d say that ebooks aren’t growing, rather they’re reallocating consumers and dollars from the print side. It’s not happening at an equal replacement rate. The growth in digital hasn’t been making up for losses in print sales. Ebooks haven’t really, by themselves, created new readers. They’ve altered the DNA of the consumers the industry already has.
Book Business: It seems clear that customers are discovering books in stores, even if they end up buying them somewhere else. In your report you imagine a future where stores get something like commission for sales they spur. What can bookstores do right now to better prove their worth and their role in the industry as a whole?
Norris: One of the solutions that can apply to chain and non-chain stores is to really focus on the user experience. The thing that I worry about with Barnes & Noble is that they have a tremendous asset in their stores, and their stores are exactly why the NOOK has done so well up to this point. They need to figure out ways to make the two divisions work more closely together, as opposed to working on an odd solution to separate the NOOK business from everything else. It seems like a bit of a 1998 concept to me. (Norris is referring to when B&N infamously split barnesandnoble.com off as a separate entity.) … Also, retailers need to know what their value is, and not partner with companies that want to exploit that, like with [UK retailer] Waterstones’ deal with Amazon. Waterstones is going to be selling Kindles in the fall, and I’ve really got to hand it to companies like Amazon, they know how to kill a competitor and make it look like suicide. The thing people need to understand here is Waterstones thinks they can outsource their ebook sales to Amazon the way Borders thought they could outsource their e-commerce to Amazon.