Independent Publisher Turns to Subscriptions to Boost Sales
Extra: Will this direct method of selling books complement retail sales channels or cannibalize them?
Michalson: Definitely complement. As an independent publisher, we’re dedicated first and foremost to the independent bookseller and don’t want to do anything that might hurt that relationship. They're our natural partners in this business, and we continue to make a large commitment to fostering that relationship. In fact, we’re examining ways we might be able to use the subscription service in partnership with individual independent booksellers so that readers could subscribe but receive their books via their local stores, for example.
But there are many, many places around the country that don’t have access to an independent bookseller—or to a retail book chain, for that matter. Even when they do, a lot of those stores aren’t able to stock everything we publish. Increasingly, the book community’s conversation about books is taking place on the Internet. Activity on our own website is mushrooming. Many of those people want to buy online. We’re simply trying to cater to as many different buying preferences as we can. For the most part, those buyers who have convenient local bookstores and are in the habit of buying books from them will continue to support those stores. And we’re all in favor of that.
Extra: Have you found that customers of your subscription program differ from your retail buyers? If so, how?
Michalson: For the most part, these are people who don’t have a convenient, local bookstore to visit, or people who prefer to buy online. So, primarily, these are customers brick-and-mortar stores aren’t reaching. They’re also the customers who are interested enough overall in the kind of books we publish to build an ongoing relationship with us.
This isn’t a zero-sum game, and we don’t believe we’re taking any sales away from the traditional markets. Rather, we’re adding new customers. If we sell a book by subscription to a customer in Blue Eye, Missouri, for example, it doesn’t mean one less sale for a store in, say, St. Louis. But it might lead to more word-of-mouth surrounding a title and eventually increase in-store sales as well.